Asian Correspondent » Zin Linn http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Wed, 20 May 2015 11:20:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Burma’s ethnic conflicts: A mission without an answer? http://asiancorrespondent.com/122813/burmas-ethnic-conflicts-a-mission-without-an-answer/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/122813/burmas-ethnic-conflicts-a-mission-without-an-answer/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 04:09:11 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=122813 Another round of talks between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has ended withou progress.

A delegation of KIO led by Sumlut Gam and Maj-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw had their counterparts from government on May 13  in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state. The government’s side was led by Minister U Aung Min, with the support of his staff from the Myanmar [Burma] Peace Centre, a government-backed body funded by the European Union and the Norwegian government.

Some representatives from the Chin National Front (CNF) and Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) and the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) also attended the talks as observers. Mr Wang Ying Fan, a diplomat from China, and Ms. Mariann Hagen, the assistant for Office of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar [Burma], also attended the meeting.

Both sides reiterated their earlier commitment to seting up a “conflict mediation team” consisting of five members from each side. In fact, it is part of the joint monitoring mechanism that was agreed on October 10, 2013. The statement also highlighted false reports from some media that dented mutual understanding.

Peacemaking team of Government of Burma and delegates of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a preparatory agreement on 30 May 31, 2013 (Thursday) in Myitkyina, the capital of the Kachin state, inside Burma.(Photo credit: Min Zaw Oo’s Face Book)

In his speech, Union Minister U Aung Min, vice-chairman of the work committee, stressed the need to take simultaneous action on the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement and a peace process between the government and KIO, according to the New Light of Myanmar Daily. He highlighted the importance of a ceasefire between the government and KIO, calling for a restoration of the trust needed to achieve this.

The meeting was aimed at seeing no more clashes and effective implementation of the agreements both sides have, he added. He stressed the need to build a mechanism to produce solutions and proposed pilot projects for formation of a joint monitoring committee and resettlement of IDPs.

While heavy fighting is ongoing in southeastern Kachin state since early April, this was the first time the two sides met for talks.  There was no major breakthroughs during the May 13 talks, as Lt. Gen. Myint Soe, the representative of the military, did not attend the meeting. Although the meeting was arranged as a two-day conference, it lasted just one day.

The government should review the mistakes of the past leaders of the nation if it wishes to find a peaceful outcome. The current President Thein Sein and the higher-ranking select few of the military should sincerely review the political aspiration of the ethnic communities. The late dictator Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in 1962, did not agree with sharing equal power with the respective ethnic representatives-elect, and it remains the same today.

It is a fair demand asking to guarantee self-determination of the respective ethnic minorities. The military-backed government should not use guns to govern the ethnic minorities. The guns will not unite the union of Burma. If we look back to 1960-61, many leaders from the ethnic states criticized the weakness of the constitution as well as the government’s failure to realize the political autonomy of the ethnic minorities.

“All the armed forces in the union shall be under the command of the Defense Services,” says the section 337 of the 2008 constitution. This means the ethnic armed troops are not allowed to be independent but must be under control of the central government’s Defense Services as secondary forces.

At the first meeting of the Central Committee of Union Peace-making Central Committee held in July 2012, President U Thein Sein delivered a speech in which he underscored the ‘Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizens’. As every national race owns the Republic of the Union of Myanmar [Burma], equitable treatment and opportunities should be granted, he emphasized. It was noteworthy that the President deemed firm political reforms were compulsory for the success of economic reforms.

“And the end of ethnic conflicts is also needed for firm political reforms. It is needed to ease ethnic conflicts and distribute political and economic opportunities equitably,” U Thein Sein said.

To carry out political and economic reforms, ethnic conflicts need to be considered. Only when such reforms are carried out will national reconciliation be achieved and ethnic conflicts be ended, U Thein Sein said.

However, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Burma Army have clashed on numverous occassions since violence broke out again in June 2011. A negotiated settlement still  still looks a long way off.

True KIO has been calling for a true political dialogue to end the decades-long warfare. But the U Thein Sein government has been shying away political talks since its key interest is to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord rather than solving the root causes of the conflict.

Although the President said ethnic conflicts bust end to pave the way for firm political reforms, his commander-in-chief has turned a deaf ear to his explanation.

During his speech at Union Peace-making Central Committee meeting, he pointed out a paragraph from the constitution. Section 348 in Chapter (8) Citizen, Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizens of the 2008 constitution states, “The Union shall not discriminate any citizen of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, based on race, birth, religion, official position, status, culture, sex and wealth.” Section 347 states, “The Union shall guarantee any person to enjoy equal rights before the law and shall equally provide legal protection.”

On the contrary, various ethnic leaders declared that they don’t have faith in the new 2008 Constitution made unilaterally by the previous junta. They say that it will not create a genuine federal union which will authorize equal political and economic rights to ethnic people in the future.

Thus, the end of ethnic conflicts is not as easy as the President might hope form, and real political reform will require a genuine political dialogue supporting political impartiality or self-determination. As a result, many analysts believe that the effort to stop the Kachinwar in Burma is a mission without a solution.

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Burma: Is public service media a tool of government? http://asiancorrespondent.com/120819/burma-is-public-service-media-a-tool-of-government/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/120819/burma-is-public-service-media-a-tool-of-government/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 03:07:35 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=120819 Burma is to start transforming its state-run media into a public service media with a strategy of trimming down the information gap amongst its citizens. Minister of Information U Aung Kyi said a bill had been submitted to the parliament’s Lower House for endorsement, Xinhua news agency reported referring to the state-run media.

“The bill was drafted with the help of UNESCO to enable it to be in conformity with the principles of diversity of media pluralism,” U Aung Kyi told the parliament on 17 March 2014.

If the parliament approves the public service media bill, the Information Minister said there will be media pluralism within public service media, state-owned media, joint-venture media, non-profit media and ethnic and community-owned media in the country.

On 25-26 September a “Conference on Public Service Media” was held at Inya Lake Hotel to formally present this message to the public. According to the state-run news media, Deputy Minister for Information U Ye Htut, Lower House and Upper House representatives and representatives from political parties were present at the event.

Also present at the conference were representatives from DVB, Swedish Radio Media Development Office, International Media Support (IMS), Myanmar journalist associations and the Ministry of Information.

Journalists protest demanding 'Stop Killing Press' on 5 August 2012, in Rangoon, Burma. (Pic: AP)

During the conference, the Information Minister U Aung Kyi made a speech underlining how public service media can help create a greater sense of national identity and also foster democratic and other important social values. U Aung Kyi said public service media provides quality educational and informational training, and serves the needs of minority and other significant groups.

“Public broadcasting performs a crucial role in ensuring the public’s right to receive a wide diversity of independent and non-partisan information and ideas. It also serves as a meeting place where all citizens are welcomed and considered equals and where social issues are discussed. It has probably been the greatest of the instruments of social democracy to be accessible to all and meant for all,” U Aung Kyi said at the Conference on Public Service Media, as reported by state-run media.

Chairman Harlad Bockman of the Democratic Voice of Burma presided over the first session of the conference titled Public Service Journalism.

The second session of the conference, chaired by Director Gayathry Venkiteswaran of SEAPA, was titled Public Service Broadcasting in Theory and Practice.

U Soe Thein (Maung Wun Tha) presided over the third session titled PSB in Myanmar. The chairs replied to questions and discussions of the attendees, the state-run newspaper said.

After the 1962 military coup, the junta established a Press Scrutiny Board to enforce strict censorship practices on all forms of printed matter, including advertisements and obituaries. The information ministry of Myanmar put an end to its outdated censorship laws in August 2012. This extraordinary move has seemed the most noteworthy in a series of wide-ranging reforms since the end of the military junta’s rule in November 2010.

The Government of Burma has formed a five-member governing body in order to transform the three dailies, Myanma Alin, Kyemon and the New Light of Myanmar currently run by the Ministry of Information, into Public Service Media (PSM) under Notification No 72/2012 dated 18-10-2012, the state-run media said on 20 October 2012.

In support of the PSM project, the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar published a flattering article on 31 December 2012 about the existing situation of media in the country, describing it as “A golden age of Myanmar’s media’.

The author, Su Thabyay Naing, seemed to pay tribute to the government by saying that there were 220 magazines and 310 journals in circulation in 2012. He also expressed in his article the insincerity of some journalists after the censorship was eased. It appeared he was praising the government’s generosity and blaming some journalists for breaching journalistic ethics.

Su Thabyay Naing also hinted that the government-owned newspaper enterprise would be transformed into 100 percent government-owned corporation which would likely change into a public corporation with investments from the private sector.

Moreover, he gave details about the governing body of the Public Service Newspaper which has distributed a code of ethics, principles and fundamental functions with due transparency. He said the state-owned newspapers had reviewed their forms, content and refreshed the papers with multicolor editions to transform into public service media.

The author also advocated that consecutive governments of various countries support public service media which deliver accurate news items to the public without bias. And they also monitor whether these media serve the people he said referring to an unnamed veteran journalist.

However, at this point about bias, most citizens may not agree with the author. People have already judged that the state-run papers Myanma Alinn, Kyemon and The New Light of Myanmar usually publish only the government’s misinformation. For instance, when the three papers publish news on ethnic conflicts, they usually describe the rebels as a destructive element or illegal armed groups. They never mention the root causes of those armed struggles.

It’s unreasonable to consider the remarks by the editor of The New Light of Myanmar who evaluates the paper as the most reliable newspaper, according to the author. This is because it never publishes news concerning big rallies of Myanmar’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi during her domestic and international tours even though she has been becoming a public focal point. The paper instead highlights the routine events of President Thein Sein and Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

The author, Su Thabyay Naing, who seems to speak on behalf of the authorities, finally advised that journalists should abide by codes of conduct in order to set up a brighter future for the country’s media sphere. His suggestion is probably a warning to keep in line with the government’s policy of disciplined democracy.

In June 2013, the members of the Interim Press Council (IPC) said that the PSM draft law need not cover journalistic ethics, duties and rights since the Press Council has already drafted those factors in the press law. The responsibilities and rights of the journalists should be on equal terms, they said.

The members of the Interim Press Council (IPC) also disagreed with PSM’s right to use to public funds, transportation and other preferences. It should pay the same tax as the public media businesses, the IPC said.  The IPC members totally rejected PSM’s 70 per cent spending of production costs from public funds. In addition, they also advised that it should stand on its own revenues and advertisement earnings because there is no state-funded public service media business in other countries. In brief, they said that the PSM should not be setting up more councils and committees at massive public cost.

According to U Win Tin, veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of Hanthawady Daily,  state-run newspapers should not exist. Even the Kyemon (Mirror) and Myanma Alin newspapers must be privatized. Private newspapers must be established and state-run newspapers need to change into private-owned, he criticized strongly.

The question should be raised about whether the PSM project is just an unfair exploitation plan by the ruling party prior to the 2015 elections.

 

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Analysis: Battle lines drawn in Burma’s fight for democracy http://asiancorrespondent.com/117835/analysis-battle-lines-drawn-in-burmas-fight-for-democracy/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/117835/analysis-battle-lines-drawn-in-burmas-fight-for-democracy/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 04:14:36 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=117835 Burma’s existing Constitution, approved in a May 2008 referendum, is controversial since it was prearranged by means of subjective legal principles. It says the military commander-in-charge can take sovereign power if the country is in a dangerous situation. In late July last year, a three-day Ethnic Conference organized by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) held in Chiang Mai, Thailand unanimously rejected the military-sponsored 2008 constitution after serious discussion.

The Ethnic Conference also made a resolution to draft a new constitution based on federalism by the end of the year. Some politicians have expressed worries that the move could bring about more conflict between ethnic rebels and the military.

Ethnic-based political parties in Burma (Myanmar) and ethnic rebel groups negotiating armistice agreements with the government after decades of military conflict have called for amendments that allow self-determination for ethnic citizens.

Speaking while on a trip to Australia in November, Burmese opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi told an audience at the Sydney Opera House that the country had still not “successfully taken the path to reform” because the military-written 2008 constitution bars the country from becoming a democracy.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, right, meets with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Canberra, Nov. 28, 2013. Pic: AP.

Trevor Wilson, a visiting fellow at the Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, said, “Both publicly and privately, Suu Kyi urged Australians and Australian organisations dealing with Myanmar to be aware of policies and practices consistent with responsible, transparent and democratic standards, and not to focus unduly on building relationships with the present undemocratic government and its supporters, including business cronies. She made it clear that she hoped Australia would provide increased support for Myanmar’s democratisation process, as being advocated by the NLD [National League for Democracy], and would have carefully noted reactions to these calls.”

Burmese army Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing holds significant influence on the proposed constitutional reforms considering the constitution reserves 25 percent of seats in parliament for the military. It also requires a 75 percent parliament majority for a charter changes following a nationwide referendum. Suu Kyi insists that a constitution is undemocratic when it can be amended or not amended in line with the will of one man who is in an unelected position.

According to the Nobel Laureate, the measures for making any constitutional change in Burma (Myanmar) were among the most inflexible in the world. Citizens cannot have genuine democracy under such a constitution.

Last month Burma’s ruling party leader was cautioned after speaking out in favour of reform. Thura Shwe Mann, chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), made his remarks during the party’s central committee meeting on December 28.

“Myanmar’s democratic reform attracts attention both locally and internationally. Failure to take correct measures for national unity and national reconciliation can cause difficulties in the reform efforts. That can also harm the process for peace, stability and development, provoking unexpected consequences,” said Shwe Mann, according to news reported by the Eleven Media Group.

The NLD’s chairperson earlier said that the opposition would boycott the next general election unless the Constitution was changed. The NLD refused to take part in the 2010 poll, criticizing the voting as inequitable. The Constitution and election laws unfairly gave privileged to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in the 2010 election through which former general Thein Sein became president.

This time the National League for Democracy (NLD) said that it will contest in the 2015 election though Article 59 (F) of the Constitution blocks party leader Suu Kyi from running for president, a NLD spokespersons told a press conference on December 28.

For the time being, the NLD has already put forward its proposition to revise 168 provisions in the existing Constitution to the parliamentary 109 joint-committee on constitutional review, Nyan Win said. One of the constitutional clauses that the NLD suggested to amend is Article 59 (F) that bars anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from leading the country— a clause widely believed to be targeted at Suu Kyi whose two sons are British citizens.

However, there is discontent among the public with the situation of within NLD. Some old members say that several former USDP followers are joining the party in search of opportunities. According to some pro-NLDs, the main opposition party needs to re-organize its structure of the village and ward-ship levels in order to be tough enough for 2015 general elections.

Suu Kyi has publicly warned party members against in-fighting and jockeying for position that could damage the party ahead of next year’s elections.

But, Burma’s political scenario in 2014 seems more complicated than ever because there will be do-or-die struggles between the ‘pro-2008 Constitution faction’ and ‘anti-2008 Constitution parties’ that is basically connected with the presidential selection in 2015. In addition, there are many more challengers for the presidency office; with rumours putting sitting President U Thein Sein, Lower House Speaker U Thura Shwe Mann, and the military chief Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as the frontrunners.

Amid constitutional barriers, the chances of Aung San Suu Kyi becoming president next year seem very slim. To challenge the presidential position in 2015, she has an uphill battle to change the most restrictive articles of the current constitution. So, 2014 will be a hostile year ahead as the democratic parties have to defend a fierce offensive by the ruling party and its crony alliance that monopolizes the country’s business interests.

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Analysis: Burma’s natural resources curse http://asiancorrespondent.com/114427/analysis-burmas-natural-resources-curse/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/114427/analysis-burmas-natural-resources-curse/#comments Fri, 18 Oct 2013 05:31:38 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=114427 Wealth of oil, gas and mineral resources lies at the heart of continuing civil and economic strife in Burma

Burma (Myanmar) is one of Southeast Asia’s most natural resource-rich countries. It earns billions of dollars yearly exporting natural resources such as oil and gas, teak, gems, and minerals. Sending natural gas overseas is the country’s particular prime source of foreign revenue.

Burma has been exporting gas to Thailand from the Yetagun and Yadana offshore blocks located in Mottama Gulf since 1998 and 2000 respectively. In 2008 BP ranked Burma as the largest gas exporter via pipelines in the Asia-Pacific with gas exports totaling 9.7 bcm in 2007. This made it the 11th largest gas exporter in the world that year, according to the report Burma’s Resource Curse: The case for revenue transparency in the oil and gas sector, issued by Arakan Oil Watch, an independent, community-based, non-governmental organization operating in Burma.

Pic: AP.

The bulk of profitable resources in Burma, including oil and gas, are unearthed from ethnic states and sold to neighboring countries. Local populations have never been enjoyed the benefits of these deals as the profits wend directly to the military.

Additionally, these states – such as Kachin, Shan, Kayah, Karen and Mon states – have never been repaid for the social and environmental damage that goes with the extraction and export of resources. This remains the main reason behind hostilities between the government and ethnic rebel forces today.

Nobody knows exactly how revenues from the sale of gas resources are spent.  However, it is easy to figure out that government spending for social improvement is stingy, while the military continues to enjoy the lion’s share of  state revenues.

Unfair sharing of resource benefits is also contributing to ethnic conflicts. Although a so-called civilian government is now running day-to-day affairs, the military remains unwaveringly above the law under the 2008 constitution. Many analysts believe that the role of military conglomerates in Burma’s economy and in managing country’s huge oil and gas revenues remains unfettered.

According to the Arakan Oil Watch (AOW), Foreign Oil Companies engaging in Myanma’s oil and gas sector also refuse to publish how much and how they pay the military regime.

The most crucial question surrounding political reform that many foreign governments overlook is the economic monopoly of Burma’s military elite. They have been exploiting the country’s natural resources under the names of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) while the country’s average population has suffered various social miseries.

President Thein Sein’s reforms hav reached few at grassroots level as farmers and workers struggle to make ends meet and their land and properties are unlawfully confiscated by the military, local authorities and government cronies. As a result, the people are suffering severe unemployment in a country where 5 million unemployed citizens have already migrated to neighboring countries in search of work. Most of these are in Thailand and Malaysia.

(READ MORE: Burma farmers find little relief from land grabs)

Burma remains one of the world’s least developed countries, and was ranked 149 out of 187 countries in the 2011 UN’s Human Development Index concerning health, education and income. Burma was ranked 172 out of 176 of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index in 2012 – fifth from bottom above Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.

If the President is truly reform-minded, he needs to make sure transparency and first-rate management of the country’s largest source of foreign income – revenues from the export of oil and gas – and cope with military monopoly in the market-based economy. With military involvement in the country’s economy, regardless of good management and sustainable development, the natural resources sector in Burma will draw out the resource curse situation even longer.

In order to control extractive industries’ revenues properly, the government must provide a yardstick for checking the use of those revenues. It’s also necessary to set up a responsible revenue management system. Such a check-and balance system should take the form of a constitutional mandate followed by more specific nationwide legislation that extensively controls the use of the benefits that come out of natural resources.

Although the extractive industries’ foreign earnings are biggest in the country, there has been no revenue transparency under both the previous military regime and the current U Thein Sein government. The government’s credit-and-debit accounts concerning the extractive industries’ foreign earnings are not publicly revealed. The same is true of defense budget spending.

According to the report by the Arakan Oil Watch, billions of dollars in revenues from the sale of natural gas have gone unrecorded in the country’s public accounts and been siphoned off by corrupt military rulers, leaving the nation with some of the worst social indicators in the world and ongoing armed conflicts in ethnic regions.

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Is Burma in the midst of constitutional Catch 22? http://asiancorrespondent.com/114195/is-burma-in-the-midst-of-constitutional-catch-22/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/114195/is-burma-in-the-midst-of-constitutional-catch-22/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 07:08:08 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=114195 Burma’s seemingly civilian government headed by President U Thein Sein has declared itself as a reformist administration since it took power in March 2011. Now, these claims are being put to the test as it comes under increasing pressure to revise the constitution.

As demands for constitutional amendment increase, the Union Parliament of Myanmar (Burma) accepted a proposal to form a 109-member Joint Committee to Review the 2008 Constitution on July 25 with the intention of examining possible changes. The committee was formed with members of parliament, members of political parties, military MPs and individuals.

However, the ruling USDP party holds 52 seats and military representatives hold 25 seats in the 109-member committee, while seven members of the opposition NLD join 25 members from small ethnic parties. The formation of the committee seems unbalanced since there are 77 pro-military members in the 109-member Joint Committee. As a result, there is widespread expectation that the committee will uphold the undemocratic articles of the 2008 Constitution.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks as she asks a question during a regular session of parliament. Pic: AP.

Burma’s current Constitution, approved in a May 2008 referendum, is inundated with false political values. It says the country must be united under one military command. In late July, a three-day Ethnic Conference organized by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) held in Chiang Mai, Thailand unanimously rejected the military-sponsored 2008 constitution after debate. The Ethnic Conference also made a decision to draft a new federal constitution before the end of the year. Some observers have expressed fears that the move could lead to more hostilities between ethnic rebels and government forces.

On August 21, Lt-Gen Yawdserk, the leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), said he agreed with the resolutions passed by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)-led conference in last July, according to Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).

“They stand for what the people really desire,” Yawdserk told SHAN. “My only criticism is that it is too early to issue such calls, since the most urgent need for the country today is peace and reconciliation.”

“Nobody except for a few likes the 2008 constitution,” Yawdserk said. “But for the sake of peace and reconciliation, what we can do now is its amendment. Not all of it can be amended at present either. So we need to consider what should be amended first.”

Earlier, he told SHAN that the first steps towards national reconciliation process should include: Full autonomy for the states, election of the state chiefs, and the transformation of the Government Army (Tatmadaw) into a federal union armed force. “The country can never become federal until and unless the armed forces become federal first,” Yawdserk said.

In contrast, Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) warned of serious consequences if the 2008 constitution is abolished and redrawn. The nation and its citizens will suffer the consequences, according to an announcement of the party’s Constitution Amendment Committee, Xinhua News reported.

On October 3, the 109-person committee released a statement calling for advice and suggestions from stakeholders on the review or amendment of the 2008 State Constitution. The committee set the deadline for November 15, 2013 for submission of advice and assessment.

Among citizens, there are two different camps, with one side calling for amendment and the other side for total redrawing of the constitution, which is supported mostly by the ethnic political groups.

In the meantime, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) also said through a statement that even though the party had held discussions with counterparts from ethnic minorities on the issue, it has not yet made a resolution on the matter because it decided to listen the people first.

The NLD has been determined to work together with the ethnic parties to get an idea of public opinion on the amendment or redrawing of the constitution. It also said that the results of its research will be submitted to the parliament.

The NLD is once again using its canvassing strategies as exercised in the by-election in April last year, with a firm focus on the restoration of the rule of law, constitutional amendments where the 2008 Constitution does not meet the standard of democracy, especially in completion of equal-shared democracy, lack of creation of equal opportunity for all citizens, and to make changes to the terms that prevent a free and fair election in 2015.

People do not forget that the new charter emerged in the course of a charade referendum (May 2008), cynically held just after the devastating Nargis cyclone that caused more than 138,000 deaths and left millions homeless. The bill was ratified by the parliament in January 2011. The biggest flaw in the constitution is that 25 percent of the seats in the parliament are set aside for soldiers who are basically appointed to the legislative body by the commander-in-chief of the military. Unless this is amended, it is difficult to see true democratic reform for the country.

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Can Burma’s President complete his peace plan? http://asiancorrespondent.com/113475/burma-can-president-get-done-his-peace-plan/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/113475/burma-can-president-get-done-his-peace-plan/#comments Mon, 16 Sep 2013 10:57:36 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=113475 A peacemaking meeting was held between the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC) and a government peacemaking team led by President’s Office Minister U Aung Min on 8 September in Chiang Mai, Thailand. U Aung Min’s true intention was selling the Burmese government plan to ethnic armed groups to join in October’s nationwide ceasefire signing ceremony, according to sources close to the ethnic federation.

However, the UNFC was reluctant to agree since its members had already signed a state-level ceasefire accords which the Burmese government army didn’t always abide by.

In fact, the government should declare a nationwide ceasefire including the government armed forces, before a nationwide negotiating period, the Karen National Union’s Joint Secretary (2) Padoh Mahn Mahn told the media. It seems there is still a big question to tackle the deployments of both sides’ armed troops.

To be frank, the 8 September meeting was unproductive one. It seemed rather presenting a bad perspective for the future talks as U Aung Min’s wordings this time are more similar a threat than a peacemaking. On the other hand, the UNFC stands firmly on their political stance that is political dialogue should be held first.

President U Thein Sein delivered a speech on 14 August 2013, at the ceremony to take heed of the address and make affirmation at the hall of the Presidential Palace, Nay-Pyi-Taw.(President Office Website)

In contrast, Burma’s President U Thein Sein also said that political demands have to discuss in the parliament after nationwide ceasefire. According to President, the ethnic armed groups need to establish respective political parties to contest in the elections. Then, the ethnic representatives-elect would have the right to talk about the ethnic equal rights in the parliament. Most ethnic armed groups dismissed such a vague blueprint suggested by the president.

Burma gained its independence by overthrowing the British colonial rule on 4 January 1948. In fact, Burma’s independence is a consequence of the ‘Historic Panglong Agreement’ between General Aung San and the leaders of Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups pledging an authentic federal union of Burma. However, Burma’s consecutive governments have ignored the political treaty between Burmese and the ethnic leaders of independence.

Even with the President Thein Sein government, the treaty has been put aside since the cabinet is dominated by ex-generals. Moreover, Burma/Myanmar’s new 2008 Constitution distributes many troubles for political parties, ethnic cease-fire groups and exiled dissident factions seeking some common initiative between ethnic groups and the current government.

To resolve the interconnected ethnic problems, the existing government must review the mistakes of past rulings and the political aspirations of the ethnic communities. The original argument of the nation’s ethnic political misunderstanding is the successive military regimes’ antagonism towards a democratic federal union. The late dictator, Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in 1962, opposed sharing equal power in order to allow self-determination to respective ethnic minorities.

Burma’s Military Council headed by Ne Win declared that the military coup had taken place because of the “Federalism,” which he said could lead to the disintegration of the nation. When Ne Win seized power, he demolished the 1948 Constitution and dismissed the Panglong Agreement, which promised autonomy of the ethnic states.

The result of the 1947 agreement reached nowhere after ten years in 1958, after gaining independence from the British in 1948. Many ethnic armed rebellions broke out to stand up for autonomy. The 1947 constitution had granted the right of secession to Karenni and Shan States.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Executive Council of the United Hill Peoples was making an effort to amend the union constitution in 1961-62 to reconstruct a true federal union with the Premier U Nu’s Government, Gen. Ne Win made a military coup on 2 March in 1962 and all ethnic states had been occupied by the treacherous Burma armed forces.

In actual fact, it is a fair demand for self-sufficiency among the respective ethnic minorities. No government should use guns to govern ethnic minorities. If one looks back to 1960-61, many leaders from ethnic states criticized the weakness of the constitution as well as the government’s failure to provide political autonomy of the ethnic minorities.

They pointed the finger at the central government for not allowing the representatives of ethnic states to manage their own affairs in areas of economy, judiciary, education, and customs and so on.

According to the military drafted and approved constitution’s Article 436, most of the provisions can be amended by a vote of more than 75% of the representatives of the joint Upper and Lower House assembly (666 seats). The military occupies 25% of the seats in each house (110, 56).

Without addressing and honoring the ethnic people’s demand for self-determination, the latest parliament-based government seems unable to stop political and civil strife throughout ethnic areas. In reality, ethnic people’s demand for equal rights is not a new one but already mentioned in the 1947-Panglong agreement.

Many ethnic leaders assert that they do not believe in the new 2008 constitution. They consider that it will not create a genuine federal union since the armed forces take 25 percent of all seats in the existing parliament. So, the current constitution will not grant the democratic freedom and the fundamental rights for the ethnic groups of the nation. In brief, if existing government sincerely wished for proper peace, it must begin with Panglong initiative which is accepted by mainstream ethnic people.

Speaking ahead of an imperative ‘Shan Conference’ held on 26-28 November,2012, the leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) Lt-Gen Yawdserk said the way to lasting peace in Myanmar is a federal democratic system, according to the Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).

“We are of the same mind as the Kachins. Any dialogue for peace must begin with Panglong”, he said. “Because all the problems we are facing now started with someone reneging on it. We must take a look at it first, and if we find there is need to improve on it, we do it.”

President has pledged during the presidential inaugural ceremony that he would mainly work in support of good governance, national reconciliation, poverty alleviation and establishing a long-lasting peaceful society. However, he looks as if he has no option to honor self-determination of the ethnic population since the military shows no consideration on the subject.

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Burma: Will the Myitsone Dam project resume? http://asiancorrespondent.com/113155/burma-will-myitsone-dam-project-resume/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/113155/burma-will-myitsone-dam-project-resume/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 03:45:37 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=113155 The resumption of the Myitsone hydropower dam project could get the go ahead after Burmese and Chinese leaders urged greater cooperation on the sidelines of the 10th ASEAN-China Expo.

During a meeting with Burmese President U Thein Sein on September 3 in Nanning, capital of south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang suggested that both countries should build on political mutual trust and strengthen cooperation to bring greater benefits to local people,  Xinhua News reported.

U Thein Sein said that his country is willing to improve strategic communication and raise cooperation in an attempt to approve development of bilateral ties and ASEAN-China relations.

The Irrawaddy River runs through Kachin State, northern Burma. Pic: AP.

Advocates for the resumption of the Myitsone hydropower station project said that the high-profile exchange has rekindled their hopes, calling on both sides to establish an inter-governmental mechanism to facilitate resumption of the project as early as possible.

Jin Honggen, an economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Burma, said that the Myitsone hydropower station is a win-win project for both sides.

Burma’s Kachin State is rich with a variety of natural resources that draw neighboring China’s interest. Not only is China keen to develop the trade and investment sector, the geopolitical frontier of the Kachin state is also meaningful for China. The Myitsone Dam project, financed by China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), has been suspended due to ongoing protests by local peopl.

On May 27, 2010, on behalf of the communities suffering from the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State, the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) appealed to the then Chinese President Hu Jintao to immediately halt the forced relocation and destruction of villages in the area.

KDNG said that the dam construction is against the will of local people and violates China’s own dam construction guidelines as well as international standards. Burma’s mlitary junta ordered over a thousand civilians from Myitkyina and forcibly relocate all the residents of Tang Hpre, the main village at the dam site, before the end of May 2010. If villagers refused to leave, the junta pulled down houses, schools and churches in Tang Hpre.

The planned dam location is at the junction of May Kha and May Likha, 27 miles upstream from Myitkyina. This venture will generate 3,600 MW of electricity.

The dam is being constructed by Burma’s Asia World Company, owned by former drug lord Lo Hsing Han, and China’s state-owned CPI. Security for the project is being provided by the Burmese military.

Thousands of Chinese migrant labourers were brought in to build the dam. The development, should it go ahead, will inundate the famous Myitsone confluence at the starting place of the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State and permanently displace 15,000 people.

The dam, the first in a series of seven on the Irrawaddy and its tributaries, will have disruptive impacts on millions living downstream. Water will be stored and released depending on power demands in China, causing unpredictable water shortages and surges. This, in addition to decreased fish populations and blockage of rich sediments, will affect countless farmers, fisher-folk and boat-operators along the river.

Anti-dam activists estimate that about 20 villages between Myitsone and Myitkyina downstream from the site will be flooded if the dams collapse. Many Kachin people at home and abroad, the Kachin Student Union, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Kachins in exile are protesting against the huge and dangerous dam development.

Protesters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, march against the Myitsone dam project in Kachin State in 2011. Pic: AP.

With a ceasefire in Kachin state in the pipeline, China hopes the postponed hydropower plan will reopen sometime after elections in 2015. Myitsone is the first of seven more Irrawaddy schemes. The aim is to generate 90 percent of Yunnan province’s electricity in exchange for $17 billion over 50 years. The general population has shown antipathy towards the project, yet the former military junta as well as the current regime are keen to supply electricity to China.

According to Burma River Network, the Irrawaddy River provides vital nutrients to wetlands and floodplain areas downstream including the delta region which provides nearly 60% of Burma’s rice. Changes to the river’s flow and the blocking of crucial sediments will affect millions farmers throughout Burma and decrease rice production.

The watchdog network also pointed out that the dams will forever change Burma’s main river ecosystem. Eighty-four percent of the Irrawaddy River’s water originates above the dam sites and will be affected by these dams. The network said that the dam is located 100 kilometers from a major fault line in an earthquake-prone area. If the dam breaks, it will flood Kachin State’s capital city of 150,000 that lies just 40 kilometers downstream.

A 945-page “environmental impact assessment,” fully funded by China’s CPI Corporation and conducted by a team of Burmese and Chinese scientists, recommends not proceeding with the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam. “There is no need for such a big dam to be constructed at the confluence of the Irrawaddy River,” says the assessment.

Burma Rivers Network (BRN) released a press statement on 30 September 2011 highlighting that China Power Investment must cancel not only the Myitsone Dam project, but all seven dam projects on the Irrawaddy River.

Ah Nan, the assistant BRN coordinator, said in the statement, “Until the Chinese project holders publicly declare their cancellation of the Myitsone Dam and pull out from the dam site, we must assume the project is going ahead.”

Building of dams has become a political issue in China’s relations with countries in Southeast Asia. Local ethnic populations have been displaced from their homes to make way for dams and reservoirs. But construction companies close to the authorities benefit from those dams. They receive millions of dollars for designing and building dams. The government officials also gain black earnings in many ways – illegal taxes, kickbacks and inducement.

In the open letter the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) warned that the Myitsone and six other hydroelectric power plant projects could lead to civil war between the KIA, the armed wing of the KIO, and the Burmese Army because Burmese troops have been deployed to the KIO control areas to provide security for the dam construction projects.

Burmese parliamentarians, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, need to launch on anti-mega dam debate in parliament, especially to stop the massive Myitsone dam project.

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Burma Army leaders call for annihilation of ethnic rebels in Shan State http://asiancorrespondent.com/112685/burma-army-aims-annihilation-of-ethnic-rebels-in-shan-state/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/112685/burma-army-aims-annihilation-of-ethnic-rebels-in-shan-state/#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 09:35:17 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=112685 The Burmese Army had suffered more than 1,000 casualties from September-December 2012, while fighting against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a number the Shan Herald Agency for News reported based on a report leaked from the Burma Army’s Lashio-based Northeastern Region Command (NERC).

As indicated by Shan News, the information was an excerpt from a speech given by Brigadier-General Aung Soe, NERC commander in Lashio in February 2013.  It was a follow-up to the tri-annual meeting of top commanders in Naypyitaw.

The Burma Army had deployed 10 infantry divisions in the campaign. There were 355 engagements between the two sides, 95 of which were heavy ones. Brig-Gen Aung Soe explained that the army lost more than 1,000 soldiers as a result. However, the government army effectively occupied all the targeted strategic areas by using heavy guns and air support, he said.

He also read out the order of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, which emphasized the overall annihilation of the KIA’s 4th Brigade in Shan State and the remnant Kokang group led by Peng Jia-sheng.

Burma's commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing salutes during Burma's 68th anniversary celebrations of Armed Forces Day, in Naypyidaw, Burma, Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Speaking to thousands of troops at the annual Armed Forces Day celebration, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that the military must strengthen its capabilities with modern weaponry and training. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

He also said the army has to wipe out all armed groups along the Nawng Khio-Namkham highway. The army must set up strongholds along the Salween’s west bank opposite the Wa area, along with the construction of all-weather road to make contact with the said strongholds.

The Commander-in-Chief’s order also mentioned the need to strengthen security for the Sino-Arakan twin pipelines plus the Shweli hydropower plants in Namkham.

The Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a preparatory treaty on 30 May, 2013, to trim down military concerns in Burma’s Kachin state and northern Shan state.

The eighth round of talks between the two sides took place in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, inside Burma under the central government since fighting resumed in Kachin state in June 2011. Previous rounds of talks took place in the Chinese border town of Ruili, as well as in Mai Ja Yang, the KIO’s second largest town in Kachin state.

The eighth round of talks started on 28 May in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina. On the third day of negotiations, the government peacemaking team and the KIO reached a seven-point preliminary agreement.

The government’s peace delegation was led by Union Minister Aung Min and Lt-Gen. Myint Soe, who is head of the Bureau of Special Operation-1 that watches over military operations in Kachin State. The KIO delegation at the talks was led by Brig-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the KIA.

After a seven-point agreement was signed on 30 May between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the government, fighting was brought under control. Many analysts consider that the seven-point agreement may indicate additional improvement towards reaching a peaceful conclusion.

However, their outlook was totally wrong. Because, clashes occurred in the government-controlled Chipwi Township in northeastern Kachin state greater than before since mid-August. According to Kachin News Group, hostilities have taken place as well in the KIA 4th brigade area in northern Shan state.

Fighting concentrated in northern Kachin and Shan states threatens to stop the progress of an interim peace in the region.  The up-to-date conflict in both areas could have distrustful end-product for upcoming peace talks, remarked a KIO official.

Sumlut Gam, leader of the KIO’s peace talk delegation, told the Kachin News Group that the 30-May agreement “included reducing military conflict, however it was not a ceasefire.”

As both parties are obliged to abide by the agreement, the KIO follow it as much as possible, Sumlut Gam said. But the government army continues attacking the KIO and it may perhaps affect peace talks, he said.

Daily clashes have been reported around Law Hkawng and Myaw Jawng areas on the east side of N’Mai Hka river in Chipwi Township. A combined force of Burma Army Light Infantry battalion 521, border guard force (BGF) and local militia attacked  KIA battalion-10 in Law Hkawng on August 17, according to KNG, referencing KIA officials in the Laiza headquarters.

Zahkung Ting Ying, a former leader of the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and current MP in parliament told the KNG that the bloodshed will continue as long as KIA troops remain in territory controlled by the NDA-K BGF. The MP was making it clear that as far as the BGF were concerned Chipwi, Pangwa and Sawlaw remain out-of-the-way to the KIO. The KIA created a post in Chipwi Township in late April 2012.

Skirmishing has also increased in Muse, Kutkai, Mantong, and Momeik townships where KIA 4th Brigade have control. Clashes have taken place particularly near the completed Shwe Gas Pipeline, which is pumping oil from Arakan state to China’s Yunnan province. If the conflict goes on in this way, it will threaten the mutual trust achieved since the seven-point agreement was signed, said Sumlut Gam.

Ahead of the eighth round of talks, on 22 May, the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA) issued a press statement on the political and military conflict in Kachin region. The Assembly demands four main points in the statement – Equal ethnic rights, justice and peace; Self-rule over our traditional territories; Full rights of self-determination and autonomy; Establishment of a genuine Federal Union.

Burma’s 66-year-old Panglong Agreement has been ignored by the successive Burmese regimes. The said agreement has also been ignored by President Thein Sein’s government. The Panglong Agreement was signed on Feb. 12, 1947, between General Aung San and leaders of the Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups guaranteeing a genuine federal union of Burma.

However, the current government’s warfare upon ethnic armed resistance groups is totally different from the President’s inaugural speech. As the hostilities against ethnic groups were started by the Burmese government, it has taken a faint vision of the ceasefire bid in Kachin State.

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Can Burma Vice-President make peace with ethnic rebels? http://asiancorrespondent.com/112601/can-burma-vice-president-make-peace-with-major-ethnic-rebels/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/112601/can-burma-vice-president-make-peace-with-major-ethnic-rebels/#comments Wed, 28 Aug 2013 15:31:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=112601

Vice-President Dr Sai Mauk Kham meets with towns elders at Aung Mingala Hall in Hsenwi Township in Shan State (North) on 26 August, 2013. (Pho: President Office Website)

Vice-President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, Head of the Union Level Peacemaking Implementation Committee, is going to meet with the Rehabilitation Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) and the Karen National Union (KNU) in Nay Pyi Taw on August 31 for a Peace talk, Eleven Media Group reported.

The Union Level Peacemaking Implementation Committee comprises of Dr Sai Mauk Kham, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the army General Soe Win, Minister to the President’s Office Aung Min and Lower House MP Thein Zaw.

Recently on August 24, a preliminary coordination meeting was held in Rangoon between Union Minister Aung Min, the RCSS/SSA and the KNU.

“We first discussed with Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) and fixed the date of the next meeting with the vice-president. The date will be August 31. We will present the ceasefire framework for discussion,” said RCSS/SSA spokesman, Colonel Sai Hla.

The armistice agenda proposed by the Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC) contains a six-point roadmap for political dialogue, also would like to hold a nation-wide conference in respective states. It also includes holding a Panglong-style conference to allow an equal number of representatives from political parties, ethnic representatives, and government leaders to discuss founding of a “genuine union” that guarantees the rights of all ethnic peoples.

The most interesting part relies on the KNU, the toughest rebel group of the country. On January 12, 2012, the KNU delegation held a prearranged meeting with representatives of the Burmese government in Pa-an, capital of Karen State. Minister Aung Min headed the Union Government’s peace team together with Minister Soe Thein and Immigration Minister Khin Yi as members.

On April 6, 2012, a Burmese government peace-making team headed by Railways Minister Aung Min and the Karen National Union’s peace delegation led by then Secretary Zipporah Sein held talks at the Sedona Hotel in Rangoon. Railways Minister Aung Min, head of Burmese government peace delegation, offered a dinner for the KNU representatives at the Sedona Hotel on 6 April. Before dinner, railways minister Aung Min and the KNU’s secretary Naw Zipporah Sein explained their political position on the peace talk’s procedure and urged all people to work together for peace.

The two sides agreed to work step-by-step for a nationwide cease-fire and to end conflict in ethnic areas. Both sides also agreed to undertake people’s safety including resettlement of thousands of refugees displaced by armed conflicts in the Karen state, and also to cooperate on removal of landmines.

President U Thein Sein met Chairman of Karen National Union (KNU) General Mutu Sae Phoe and party in Nay-Pyi-Taw on 5 January 2013. (http://www.president-office.gov.mm)

On 21 September, 2012, the Karen National Union (KNU) released a statement calling for “tri-partite dialogue so that all ethnic and political groups can be represented and a consensus can be reached and provide a stable foundation for genuine peace and democracy in our country.”

KNU also call for immediately halt all military operations in Kachin State on the International Day of Peace. KNU’s statement intensely said that to establish a genuine and permanent peace government must have willingness allowing all sides to enter into political dialogue to address the root causes on conflict, and resolve it in political means.

On the 63rd Anniversary of Karen People Martyrs’ Day on 12 August, KNU President Gen. Mutu Say Po delivered a message to people. At one stage, the message says, “ The political stand of the KNU is that, as movement of the Karen people is political, it must be resolved politically. The aim of establishment of armed organizations by the KNU is not to fight the enemy for victory and seize the State power. The aim is to protect the organization and the people, to be able to resolve the political problems harmoniously, to achieve equality and self-determination for the Karen people and all the other ethnic nationalities, to establish a federal union based on democracy. As the KNU accepts the resolution of Karen political problem through political dialogue and negotiation as the most correct way, whenever the condition allows, the KNU has to establish peace with the regimes in power and resolve the Karen political problem politically through dialogue.”

To date, some serious questions between government and the KNU are still unresolved. For instance, the systematic relocations of the Burma Army troops from Karen State and other conflict ridden Karen areas are unanswered. Besides, the Code of Conduct, which was drafted by the KNU and submitted to the government to negotiate, is still up in the air.

Karen National Union (KNU) or Karen rebellion has its beginning since the Second World War, when many Karen fought alongside the British Army against the invading Japanese. The Karen populace was guaranteed to have autonomy by the British but when independence gained in 1948 the promise was disappeared. Afterward, in January 1949, the Karen initiated the armed struggle with the intention of self-determination ever since.

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Analysis: The drug problem – An ongoing political challenge in Burma http://asiancorrespondent.com/112483/analysis-the-drug-problem-a-long-lasting-political-challenge-in-burma/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/112483/analysis-the-drug-problem-a-long-lasting-political-challenge-in-burma/#comments Mon, 26 Aug 2013 23:23:40 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=112483 Despite an overall ‘stable’ global drug use situation, an increase in Southeast Asia’s markets for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and a continuing rise in opium cultivation pose growing human security and public health challenges, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Report released on 26 June 2013.

Afghanistan accounted for 74 per cent of global illicit opium production in 2012 and remains the world’s leading producer and cultivator of opium, while Burma is the world’s second largest, accounting for 23 per cent of the land used for illicit poppy cultivation and 10 per cent of global opium production, says the UNODC.

Methamphetamine remains the top illicit drug threat in East and Southeast Asia, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report – “2012 Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs, Asia and the Pacific” – which was made public in December 2012. Seizures of methamphetamine pills have increased more than five-fold since 2007, says the UNODC, noting that amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are now either the number one or number two illicit drug of use in 13 of the 15 Asia-Pacific countries surveyed in the report.

Villagers harvest opium in Burma's Shan State. Pic: AP.

Burma remains the top source of illicit methamphetamine pills in East and Southeast Asia, and is also a source of crystalline methamphetamine, according to the UNODC report, which says that ‘significant quantities’ of crystal meth are also produced in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, with ‘large-scale manufacturing’ reported in Cambodia.

Reported methamphetamine use increased in 11 of 15 countries surveyed in East and Southeast Asia. The use of methamphetamine in pill form increased in all six countries that comprise the Greater Mekong Subregion – Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Vietnam.

According to the UNODC Report, Burma remains a major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in Southeast Asia, most of which are manufactured in Shan State in the eastern part of the country. The report also says, for the first time, a crystalline methamphetamine manufacturing facility was seized in 2012. Large amounts of methamphetamine in pill and crystalline form originating from Burma continue to be seized in neighbouring countries.

The report also highlights that in the region, Burma has become one of the key sources of methamphetamine for a number of illicit drug markets in the past decade and a half or so. Most methamphetamine manufacturing in Burma takes place in the mountainous and remote terrain of eastern Shan State, a region affected by drug trafficking and political instability for much of the past six decades.

According to the UNODC, methamphetamine in pill and crystalline forms – as well as heroin – manufactured in the Shan State is trafficked overland and via the Mekong River, primarily to illicit drug markets in China, Thailand and, to a lesser but possibly increasing extent, Bangladesh (UNODC 2010). Methamphetamine is also smuggled from Burma into Yunnan province in southwestern China (NNCC 2012b). Some methamphetamine is also trafficked within Burma to supply the domestic drug market (UNODC 2010).

A report – Journey of RCSS Anti-narcotic Activities – recently published by the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) says the tripartite cooperation with the government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) is most important in the ultimate solution of the long standing drug problem in the country, Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.) reported last week.

The cover of 82 page booklet – Journey of RCSS Anti-narcotic Activities – which presents in three languages: Shan, Burmese and English. All the data included in the report are before June 2013, before the RCSS/SSA leader Sao Yawd Serk made his historic trip to meet President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw, where he discussed the drug issue with the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC).(Photo: SHAN)

The 82-page report in three languages – Shan, Burmese and English – is based on information gathered before June 2013, before RCSS/SSA leader Sao Yawd Serk made his historic trip to meet President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw, where he discussed the drug issue with the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC).

“Although the eventual solution of the drug problem rests with the political settlement, the drug situation among the people is so severe, the solution for the drug problem should be sought simultaneously with the search for a political solution,” reads the Shan version of the report.

The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army had signed a 9-point agreement with the government and UNODC on 28 October 2012 for a pilot project in Mongnai and Mongpan Townships, in southern Shan State. However, a lack of finances and hostilities between the Burma Army and the SSA South have hindered the implementation of the plan.

Most illicit methamphetamine manufacture in Shan State takes place in small, mobile facilities located in border areas near China and Thailand, primarily in territories controlled by active or former ethnic insurgent groups, many of which now operate as criminal syndicates rather than politically motivated insurgents, the report says.

Additionally, the UNODC 2012 report says that opium poppy cultivation has increased in Burma for six consecutive years. Opium poppy cultivation is at far lower levels than in the mid-1990s but is on the increase.In 2012, an estimated 300,000 households were involved in opium poppy cultivation in Burma.

According to the Shan Drug Watch 2012, if political settlement of long-standing ethnic dissatisfaction is not reached, the armed conflicts that fuel Burma’s drug epidemic will never end.

To stop growing poppy, an alternative cash crop must be provided. According to some political analysts, poppy growing and opium production in Shan State have increased over the past two years due to political volatility and growing economic despondency caused by cronyism, corruption and unprofessional conduct of the government.

According to Shan Drug Watch’s Khuensai Jaiyen, the Burma Army controlled ‘People’s Militia Forces’ (PMF), set up by the government supporting its operations against rebel forces, have become key players in the drug trade, both heroin and ATS. However, government authorities’ involvement in the drug problem is being ignored by the international community since it embraces Burma’s President Thein Sein administration.

According to the Shan Drug Watch report, at least six well-known drug lords represent the ruling party and have held parliament seats  since the 7 November, 2010 elections,

Unless the strategies of the government’s peace deals are transparent, the drug trade will continue to thrive. Thus, negotiated resolutions to the ethnic and religious conflicts in the country need to be found as soon as possible.

The drug problem has intertwined with the country’s long-lasting political challenges since Burma gained independence in 1948. Underestimating the impact of drug-trafficking throughout the country may severely damage the ongoing attempts at reform supported by Western democracies.

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Burma needs to value peace talks in Kachin State http://asiancorrespondent.com/112518/burma-needs-to-value-peace-talks-in-kachin-state/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/112518/burma-needs-to-value-peace-talks-in-kachin-state/#comments Mon, 26 Aug 2013 16:24:36 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=112518 Government of Burma and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) or the ethnic Kachin rebels signed a preparatory treaty on 30 May this year that seems to downscale military concerns in Burma’s Kachin state and northern Shan state. Many analysts consider that this preliminary agreement may direct to additional improvement towards accomplishing a peaceful conclusion.

The eighth round of three-day talks started on 28 May in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina. On the third day of the negotiations, the government peacemaking team and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) reached a seven-point preliminary agreement. The government’s peace delegation was led by Union Minister Aung Min and Lt-Gen. Myint Soe who is head of the Bureau of Special Operation-1 that watch over military operations in Kachin State. The KIO delegation at the talks was led by Brig-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The most important points that agreed by both parties are to carry out difficult task to attain decreasing and termination of hostilities and to maintain negotiations on military issues concerning rearrangement of respective armed forces, according to the groundwork agreement.

Peacemaking team of Government of Burma and delegates of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a preparatory agreement on 30 May 31, 2013 (Thursday) in Myitkyina, the capital of the Kachin state, inside Burma.(Photo credit: Min Zaw Oo’s Face Book)

A seven point agreement aimed at reducing military tensions seems to have been forgotten by the government. Burma military continue to attack Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) bases. The agreement that was signed during the end of May peace talks fell short of a ceasefire, but was supposed to help end the fighting. A mechanism was agreed by both sides to put in place to ensure it.

However, Lamai Gum Ja, a peace broker of Myitkyina based Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG) told Kachin News Group (KNG) it was unknown when the government will meet with the PCG and the KIO’s Technical Advisory Team.

Kachin Independence Organization’s officially opened its Technical Advisory Team office in the capital of Myitkyina in Kachin State on July 23. It’s an Ironic that on the same day of the inauguration of the office, government troops attacked KIO’s armed forces in northern Shan state. Fighting followed near Mai Ja Yang, the second capital of KIO in eastern Kachin state.

As reported by the KNG, On 17 August, joint forces of the Burma military light infantry battalion 521 and a Border Guard Force (BGF), formerly the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) led by Zahkung Ting Ying, hit a KIA military battalion 10, under 1st brigade, base in Jubili near Chipwi. The NDA-K had defected from the KIO some years back.

On 19 August, fighting continued at Myu Jawng, between Chipwi and Sawlaw.  KIA battalion 10 troops battled it against the government backed BGF.  At least two soldiers from the government’s side were reported to have been killed in the two separate clashes.  Ammunition and guns were captured, quoting verification by KIA officers based in the Laiza headquarters, KNG said.

These latest government offences are interrupting the implementation of a peace process by the KIO’s technical advisory team, said Lamai Gum Ja of the PCG.

The conflict is also affecting the more than 70,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in KIO controlled territories along the China border from returning home, said Doi Pyi Sa, head of KIO Refugee and IDP Relief Committee.

If Thein Sein government has a genuine scheme of political reform right through the country, the first thing it ought to do is to bring to a standstill the war in Kachin state at any rate. Human Rights Watch called on the Burmese government to ask the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an office in Burma with a standard protection, promotion, and technical assistance mandate.

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, reminds towards the international community that the situation in Burma’s Kachin state is not at a point of satisfactory. People of Burma have to go for a long way, particularly those in conflict areas, to meet the benefit from recent reform promises of the current quasi-civilian government.

In actual fact, the government’s armed forces are behind crimes against humanity. The human rights abuses of Burmese soldiers in Kachin State are serious violations of international laws. It is also the duty of the existing government to provide humanitarian assistance to thousands of war refugees and internally displaced populations in various ethnic states.

The KIO continue to stick to their earlier position, and not willing to sign another ceasefire without political dialogue.

How much time does President Thein Sein requires creating nationwide ceasefire, a transition to democratic state and full respect for human rights? The cost of further delay will be paid in thousands of innocent lives, lost opportunities and protracted ethnic conflict. President should not drag his feet ending hostilities in Kachin state and also should not waste time honoring ethnic people’s autonomy.

]]> http://asiancorrespondent.com/112518/burma-needs-to-value-peace-talks-in-kachin-state/feed/ 0 Burma: Constitutional dilemma – revision or drawing a new charter? http://asiancorrespondent.com/112407/burma-constitutional-dilemma-revision-or-drawing-a-new-charter/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/112407/burma-constitutional-dilemma-revision-or-drawing-a-new-charter/#comments Fri, 23 Aug 2013 11:03:23 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=112407

Aung SanSuu Kyi has already declared her willingness to serve as her country’s president and her party’s intention to amend the undemocratic clauses in the constitution to allow her to do so, according to 8 October 2012 AP News.

President Thein Sein’s government has declared itself a reformist administration since it took power in March 2011. At present, it has to meet a confrontational challenge so as to show its proper practice regarding constitutional change, which has been called for by various oppositions.

As demands for constitutional amendment increased, the Union Parliament of Burma accepted the forming of a 109-member Joint Committee to Review the 2008 Constitution on 25 July with the purpose of examining possible changes. The committee was formed with members of parliament, members of political parties, military MPs and individuals.

In contrast, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) unanimously rejected the military-sponsored 2008 constitution, after discussing it at a three-day Ethnic Conference (from 29 to 31 July) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A total of 122 delegates presented at the conference on behalf of the UNFC-member organizations, 18 resistance organizations, the United Nationality Alliance, four political parties of ethnic nationalities, academics and activist individuals.

An ethnic criticism said that a nationwide ceasefire agreement without adequate guarantees of political dialogue and monitoring mechanisms is unacceptable. There is a constant demand from the country’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution must guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the Parliament.

On 21 August, Lt-Gen Yawdserk, the leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), said Tuesday he agreed with the resolutions passed by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)-led conference late last month, according to Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).

Lt-Gen Yawdserk, the leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), (Photo: Shan State Army).

“They stand for what the people really desire,” Yawdserk told SHAN. “My only criticism is that it is too early to issue such calls, since the most urgent need for the country today is peace and reconciliation.”

An important resolution made by the UNFC during the Ethnic Conference for Peace and Reconciliation was the total rejection of the 2008 constitution drawn by the previous military regime. The Ethnic Conference also made a decision to draft a new federal constitution before the end of the year.

Some observers have criticized the decision as a war cry for a return to hostilities and confrontation.

“Nobody except for a few likes the 2008 constitution,” Yawdserk commented. “But for the sake of peace and reconciliation, what we can do now is its amendment. Not all of it can be amended at present either. So we need to consider what should be amended first.”

Earlier, he had told SHAN that the first step in the national reconciliation process should include: Full autonomy for the states, election of the state chiefs, and the transformation of the Burma Army (Tatmadaw) into a federal union armed forces. “The country can never become federal until and unless the armed forces become federal first,” Yawdserk said.

Burma’s current Constitution, approved in a May 2008 referendum, is inundated with misleading principles. It says the country must be united under one military command. To bring the ethnic groups in line with this term, the previous military regime has ordered all armed rebel groups to become part of Burma’s border guard force, but failed afterward.

There is a constant demand from Burma’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution must guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the Parliament. It is also required to include provisions against racial prejudice.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has already declared her willingness to serve as her country’s president and her party’s intention to amend the undemocratic clauses in the constitution to allow her to do so, according to the Associated Press. Suu Kyi said it is her duty as leader of the NLD to be willing to take the executive office if that is what the people want. She said a clause in the constitution effectively barring her from the job is one of several her party seeks to change.

During a visit to India, Suu Kyi addressed an audience in Delhi and said that the general election to be held in 2015 will not be fair, even though it is free, lacking compulsory amendments of the constitution.

Aung San Suu Kyi said that all parties in Burma, not just parliament, should make efforts to amend the country’s constitution, warning that the current charter cannot ensure credible elections in 2015, according to Radio Free Asia (Burmese Service). She also urged Burmese people inside and outside of the country to endeavor to bring amendments to the constitution.

So far, no one knows whether the incumbent regime has genuine intentions to provide autonomy toward ethnic minorities with the aim of making national reconciliation. No opinion of the ethnic representatives was taken into account during the national convention (1993 — 2007), in which the principles of the 2008 constitution were laid down.

The previous junta took 14 years to draft the existing constitution, which was boycotted by opposition parties, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other ethnic democratic parties who gained a landslide victory in the 1990 elections.

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Burma President takes an unwise political stance http://asiancorrespondent.com/112205/burma-president-makes-an-unwise-political-stance/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/112205/burma-president-makes-an-unwise-political-stance/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 16:42:42 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=112205 Burma’s President Thein Sein, Chairman of the Planning Commission, said that his government recognizes political reforms are essential to create development of economic reforms during ‘The third Planning Commission Meeting’ continued for a second day on 27 December at the Government Meeting Hall in the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw.

He said his government has attempted to ensure involvement of all the citizens in the political process. Besides, the government has worked out constantly to promote equal rights for every citizen to enjoy job opportunities in the course of economic reforms. The majority of the population lives in rural constituencies, he said. So, he puts emphasis on rural development and poverty alleviation for socioeconomic development of rural people.

Consequently, President Thein Sein called for uphill struggle to bring the country out of the poverty saying there is no such a heal-all solution in his speech at Nay-Pyi-Taw Council Area Rural Development and Socioeconomic Improvement Meeting held on 19 August, 2013.

President Thein Sein addresses at Nay Pyi Taw Council Area Rural Development and Socioeconomic Improvement Meeting held on 19 August 2013.(Photo: President Office Website)

Farmers consist of about 70 % of population in the country and most of them depend on agricultural sector, the President said. The government gave priority to the agricultural development as it is the requirement for the improvement of the rural area, the President said. He inclined the mechanical crop growing for higher earnings of the farmers. He assured that the cooperative societies would be tasked to ensure better supply chain.

He called on the cooperative societies to give financial support to farmers and also facilitate them for their crops reaching saleable stage. It takes some months to make a crop or paddy cost-effective, he said, stating the need to do two-way farming for extra income in the production period. It would help the farmers lead a favorable life, the President added.

Farmers need funds to run integrated farm and the government knows that its provision of K 100,000 is not yet sufficient for it. For that reason, farmers are urged to redesign the farmland. They have to build water inflow and drainage channels and have their farmlands registered to use them as security for loans, the President said. 

Now, farmland registration has been carried out in all eight townships in Nay-Pyi-Taw. The registration is the certificate of possession like house grant, enabling farmers to use their farmland as security to ask for bank loans. Therefore, instead of agricultural subsidies, enough bank loans will be provided systematically for farming purpose, the New Light of Myanmar said.

For that reason, in cooperation with private businessmen agriculture produce cooperative societies must be established in villages of 500 to 1000 acres of farmland. These societies would be able to buy farming tools with local and foreign loans and assistance and provide planting, harvesting and threshing service to farmers.

According to the state-run newspapers, President said that the initial capital would be provided to each cooperative society from eight townships in Nay-Pyi-Taw Council Area at the ceremony. A loan of K 720.67 million would be provided as capital and agricultural machinery worth K 128.245 would also be facilitated to the cooperative societies by the Ministry of Coperatives, the President said.

The purpose of disbursing loans is part of eight rural development and poverty alleviation tasks being initiated by the Ministry of Cooperatives, he said. Despite prospects for economic development, Myanmar still has high poverty rate, he added.

However, after five decades of military rule, some of the hardest political stumbling blocks remain, as well as a military that still seizes the country’s mainstream industries and financial system.

Under military dictatorship for decades, Burma has become known as a natural gas and teak seller and its socioeconomic conditions have gone downhill under the soldiers’ unprofessional management.

The military-monopolized economy leaves most of the citizens especially farmers in poverty, while military leaders and their cronies exploit the country’s abundant natural resources. In 2010-11, state properties, especially real estate, were transferred to relatives of military authorities under the guise of a privatization policy. It created a wider gap between the military-backed privileged first-class and the ordinary population.

The worst situation of land-confiscation by the army is still unresolved. The landless farmers are now calling government for giving back their farmlands. Several protests against unlawful land-confiscation are taking place in many rural areas in Burma.

In fact, natural resources including productive farmyards in ethnic states are unilaterally grabbed by the Burma Army. Burma Army has been captured a great deal of land in every ethnic region through unjust war. As a result, the fighting produced thousands of war refugees and internally displaced populations in various ethnic states.

Hence, the President’s reform stance on Monday seems to be an unwise political stance that provided priority to the agricultural development in eight townships in Nay-Pyi-Taw Council Area instead of war torn ethnic rustic areas. He should seriously think about the miseries of the ethnic people in many war zones who even have no makeshift shed or food supplies.

As a reformist, he should give priority to that trouble ethnic population in support of humanitarian assistance. It will be helpful to make a successful national reconciliation as well.

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Opinion: Burma’s draft media law reflects the government’s reform http://asiancorrespondent.com/112133/opinion-burmas-draft-media-law-reflects-the-governments-reform/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/112133/opinion-burmas-draft-media-law-reflects-the-governments-reform/#comments Mon, 19 Aug 2013 11:38:50 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=112133 Press freedom in Burma (Myanmar) is still in the midst of an uncertain circumstance. Since the majority of media personnel rejected the formation of the Core Press Council, the interim press council was a compromise between the information ministry and defiant journalists. Even though interim press council was formed on 17 September 2012 in Rangoon as a substitution for the Myanmar Core Press Council, its existence will be insecure within a few months.

According to earlier media reports, the interim press council was assigned the task of drafting a code of conduct and to offer its input in rewriting a draft media law proposed by the Information Ministry. Most journalists believed that press council members’ major responsibility would be helping to draft the press law.

But, to everyone’s surprise, the authorities revealed the ‘Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law Draft Bill’ on 27 February without seeking advice from the stakeholders of the press.

In March this year, three media groups – Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU) – protested against the draft Printing and Publishing Law. It was drawn up by the Ministry of Information (MOI) and submitted to Lower House Parliament on 27 February, 2013. They protested because MOI did not consult with media stakeholders before it put forward the draft bill to the House.

The MOI’s draft bill strengthens government control over the print media. Many journalists say that it is no different from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law which was enacted by the late Gen. Ne Win, the then Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of the Union of Burma. Some journalists say that the bill just changes the title of the censor officer to registration officer, but his authority is the same as before.

Several journalists, along with the Committee For Freedom of Press (Myanmar) gathered at a media workshop at the Yuzana Garden Hotel in Yangon on 12 March calling on the government to revoke the draft Printing and Publishing Bill. (Photo: Committee For Freedom of Press (Myanmar) FB)

However, the Lower House approved the controversial Printing and Publishing Enterprise Draft Law on 4 July, even though members of the interim press council argued that the bill still includes measures that hinder media freedom. The MOI’s bill was approved by the Lower House while press freedom watchdogs have disapproved of the ministry’s wide-ranging powers to issue and cancel publication licenses.

At some stage in negotiations with the Ministry of Information, press council members called attention to clauses that opposed press freedom. But those unfair clauses were still taken place in the draft law that was approved by the Lower House, Zaw Thet Htwe, a Press Council member, told the media.

Several analysts think it showed the dialogue between the information ministry and the press council was unproductive, and that it could damage future co-operation.

A more complicated question is that the MOI’s draft bill included radio and television plus Internet-based media apart from print media. So, observers think the MOI has trespassed beyond the boundary of print media sphere.

The most debatable part of the draft bill are the “5 restrictions” that appear in “chapter 3″. In brief, chapter three warns against publishing on issues concerning incitements to racial and religious hatred; agitations to damage law and order, fueling riots; immoral sexual related matters; supporting violence and crimes, gambling, drugs and methamphetamine interconnected unlawful activities; writings against the current constitution and existing laws. Many journalists consider that the 5 restrictions show no clear-cut definitions and could easily be used to silence the press.

On the other hand, there are disagreements between the Myanmar Interim Press Council and the Information Ministry on 17 points in the Media Law drafted by media personnel with the Interim Press Council. On July 24, the Myanmar Press Council, the Information Ministry and the Lower House’s Sports, Culture and Public Relation Development Committee held a tripartite meeting to discuss the Media Bill in the Lower House building in Naypyitaw.

A meeting between the Ministry of Information and interim Press Council on 12 July at the Park Royal Hotel in Yangon focused on addressing issues concerning Myanmar’s controversial media law. No clear-cut solutions emerged to be in sight on basic press freedom issue.

Meanwhile, in support of the Press Council’s draft Media Law, Signatures have been collected in Rangoon, Mandalay, Magwe, Taung-gyi and other towns starting on August 4, as a part of a campaign to put forward the public opinion to the President and members of parliaments. The signatures are being collected by media personnel in the respective areas throughout the country, said Tin Zar Zaw, Editor-in-Charge of Popular Journal and member of Myanmar Journalists Network.

Interim Press Council also met the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann last week and discussed on the hot Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill which the two leaders said was still having chances to revise the bill before it becomes law.

“The council has still chances to amend the bill before the Upper House and the bicameral house sessions and even there is a final chance putting forward the case to the president,” Referencing Thura Shwe Mann, Tin Zar Zaw said.

Moreover, Burma News International (BNI), composition of 12 ethnic media groups, also supports the Press Council’s Media Law as well as the signature campaign that gets underway for a genuine press freedom.

Most journalists believe the rivalry on media freedom between the MOI and the Press council seems to disclose the reality of the President Thein Sein’s comprehensive reform policy.

International media watchdog groups have been urging the Burmese authorities repeatedly to dump the unethical laws governing freedom of expression. The Burmese government still needs to dump the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, article 505-B of the criminal code, the 1996 Television and Video Act, the 1996 Computer Science Development Act, the 1923 Officials Secrets Act and the 1933 Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act which are still threatening the press freedom.

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Burma: Student rebels reach 12-point agreement with government http://asiancorrespondent.com/111787/burma-student-rebels-reach-12-point-agreement-with-government/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/111787/burma-student-rebels-reach-12-point-agreement-with-government/#comments Sun, 11 Aug 2013 15:35:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=111787 The union-level peace talks between  theUnion Peace-making Work Committee and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) were held at Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Yangon over the weekend.

During the meeting, Vice-Chairman of Union Peace-making Work Committee Union Minister Aung Min said that peace talks are being held because of a new political setting and the wish for ABSDF’s participation in the peace talks.

According to the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, they talked about arrangements for more discussions to build mutual trust and understanding.

After that, Chairman Yebaw Than Khe of ABSDF revealed his expectations for success at coming talks based on the achievements so far. Then, the delegates from two sides exchanged and discussed the 12-point agreement. The leaders of two sides signed the agreement and exchanged notes.

All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) delegation attend peace talks on 10 August 2013 at Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Yangon.(Photo: Nyo Ohn Myint’s Facebook)

After the talks, there was a press conference and the delegates from two sides answered the questions raised by the local and foreign media personnel. As reported by state media, the two sides have reached the following agreements:

– to make efforts for ensuring a nationwide cease-fire through the accountability and responsibility by both sides;

– to agree to form an independent monitoring team in principle for ceasefires and local peacemaking processes;

– to officially invite political forces, political parties and organizations and persons for their inclusiveness in the country’s political processes;

– to carry out continued discussions and scrutinizing by the remaining political prisoners scrutinizing committee for the release of all political prisoners;

– to continue holding discussions on democratic affairs, national equality and autonomy which are proposed by ABSDF;

– to have rights to independently hold discussions and meetings on the results of ABSDF’s political talks, political stands and processes with the people and people-based organizations in accord with the laws;

– to hold continued discussion on the removal of ABSDF from unlawful association list;

– to hold continued discussions on the removal of ABSDF members from the blacklist and the cancelation of the charged members in accord with the law;

– to have rights to liaise with local and foreignbased NGOs and CBOs in line with the existing laws;

– to have rights to engage with news agencies and media freely and independently;

– to continue making coordination on opening of liaison offices in Kaly, Payathonsu, Muse and Loikaw which are suggested by ABSDF for smooth operation of communication channels including local peace-making processes and ceasefires;

– to agree to draft Code of Conduct in principle which are to be abided by both army;

– to set the date for second Union-level talks in the coming November, the state-run newspaper mentioned.

According to Union Minister Aung Min, the government offered peace talks as of 18 August, 2011 and signed a state level ceasefire agreement with ABSDF at the 6th round of talks. T

At the state level peace talks both sides agreed to cessation of hostilities as of 5 August, 2013 in favor of ensuring a nationwide ceasefire and holding a political dialogue, to take measures in order not to occur conflicts and fighting between ABSDF and Government armed forces and to allow unarmed ABSDF members to travel to other places in accord with the law except bases of ABSDF in the areas of ethnic armed groups.

The agreement also includes the opening of a liaison office in which arms are not allowed in Myawaddy, which is acceptable to both sides and to continue to hold talks on places for opening of more liaison offices at the Union level meeting, to form an official delegation to hold a Union level peace talks and to begin the Union level peace talks as of 10 August, 2013.

According to Union Minister Aung Min, 13 ethnic armed groups have agreed ceasefires with the government.

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Opinion: Burma’s president must apologize for 1988 killings http://asiancorrespondent.com/111694/opinion-burmas-president-must-apologize-for-1988-killings/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/111694/opinion-burmas-president-must-apologize-for-1988-killings/#comments Thu, 08 Aug 2013 15:50:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=111694 On Thursday Burmese people around the country commemorated the 25th Anniversary of the 1988 People’s Democracy Revolution. In the past, no remembrances were allowed to mark the 8888 anniversary in Burma, and this year heavy police security was be seen in big cities, especially in Rangoon (Yangon) around Shwedagon Pagoda.

Members of Burma's prominent 88 generation students group hold wreaths during a march to mark the 25th anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in Yangon. Pic: AP.

The uprising was violently suppressed on 8- 8-88 by the then-ruling military junta in which Thein Sein and several senior military officers in the existing quasi-civilian government were complicit.

In September 1987, Burma’s then dictator General Ne Win brought the economy to its knees by abruptly revoking certain values currency notes. As a superstitious man, he wanted only 45 and 90 kyat denomination notes in circulation. He made such foolish decision because they were divisible by nine, which he considered a lucky number for his destiny.

As people’s savings were wiped out overnight, protests in relation to the swelling economic catastrophe were sparked by the students of Burma, particularly in Rangoon.

On 13 March 1988, students protesting in front of the Rangoon Institute of Technology clashed with police and military personnel and some students, including Phone Maw, a fourth year engineering student, were shot dead. The students’ deaths provoked more and more mass protests, which drew ordinary citizens and Burma’s monks into the protests.

Burmese activists hold a protesting poster in front of the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday, Aug 8, 2012. Pic: AP.

On 8 August 1988 – ‘known as 8-8-88 Democracy Movement’ – hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country, calling for democracy. During this time, dissenting newspapers published, banners of fighting-peacock were flying everywhere, coordinated demonstrations were held and many democratic speakers appeared in public meetings.

On 26 August, Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence icon Aung San who had come back to Burma to look after her ailing mother, made a speech at Shwedagon Pagoda and subsequently she became the public figure of the 1988 democracy movement.

On August 8, 1988, oldiers gunned down protesters using automatic rifles. They sprayed bullets into crowds of dissidents. Hundreds of activists were taken away in army-trucks and most of them were never seen again. According to observers, analysts and human rights watchers, t more than 3,000 innocent citizens were killed.

Eventually, General Ne Win resigned as ruling socialist-party boss on 23 July. However, he made a last warning that “when the army shoots, it shoots in a straight line”. On 18 September, the military seized power.

After 18 September coup d’état led by the then military Chief General Saw Maung, Aung San Suu Kyi led founding the NLD, but she was put under house arrest in July 1989. Despite her detention, the NLD party won staggering 82% of the seats in Parliament in the 1990 parliamentary election, but, the military junta refused to convene the parliament and also refused to recognize the results. Since her initial arrest, Suu Kyi has been allowed only a few brief years of freedom.

Since that time on, thousands of political prisoners have been came under arbitrary arrest and thrown into jail under unfair laws and trials in the absence of their lawyers. The military government’s penal code imposed excessive sentences against political activists.

For instance, article 5 (j) of the penal code allows authorities to impose 7 to 20 year prison terms on anyone who joined in peaceful protest or showing different opinion against the regime. Another article 505 provides an indefinite prison term for criticizing the authorities’ policies or actions.

According to international legal standard, all political prisoners have committed no crime at all. So, for the current President Thein Sein government, releasing of political prisoners should be the first and foremost of the political reform urgently requires today. Subsequently, the above mentioned undemocratic laws must be done away with as a necessity for change.

According to critics and watchdogs, the 7 November 2010 election, won by the military-backed political proxies, was flawed by widespread complaints of vote rigging and the exclusion of the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest shortly after the polls.

If the Thein Sein government has decided to stick to the political reform course, it must pledge to amend the undemocratic 2008 Constitution with respect to the self-determination of the ethnic people.

Moreover, the government has to acknowledge the burning desires of the people who participated in 1988 democracy movement. Although successive military-backed rulers try to eliminate the history of 1988 people’s democracy movement, their attempts are in vain. In the same way, they also do their utmost to do away with the people’s demands in the 1988 movement.

Therefore, President Thein Sein should honor the historic 8888-uprising as a cornerstone of the country’s democracy foundation. Moreover, he needs to take accountability for the bloodshed crackdown on the 1988 pro-democracy insurrection as the students call an apology from the government.

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Analysis: Can Burma find a solution for its constitutional dilemma? http://asiancorrespondent.com/111508/analysis-can-burma-find-a-solution-for-constitutional-dilemma/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/111508/analysis-can-burma-find-a-solution-for-constitutional-dilemma/#comments Sun, 04 Aug 2013 11:27:59 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=111508 Burma’s quasi-civilian government headed by President Thein Sein has declared itself as a reformist administration since it took power in March 2011. Now, it has to meet head-on a major challenge in order to show its true color concerning constitutional revision which has been calling by various oppositions.

As demands for constitutional amendment increasey, the Union Parliament of Burma accepted a proposal to form a 109-member Joint Committee to Review the 2008 Constitution on 25 July with the intention of examining possible changes. The committee was formed with members of parliament, members of political parties, military MPs and individuals.

A three-day Ethnic Conference organized by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) that ended on 31 July in Chiang Mai, Thailand unanimously rejected the military-sponsored 2008 constitution, after debate. A total of 122 delegates appeared at the conference: representing the UNFC-member organizations, 18 resistance organizations, the United Nationality Alliance, 4 political parties of ethnic nationalities, academics and active individuals.

The current 2008 Constitution practiced by current government is not accepted, as it is devoid of democratic essence and not in accordance with the principles of federalism, Khun Okkar, spokesman of the UNFC said at the press conference on 2 August in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Photo: Saw Tun Lin-KIC)

According to the statement dated 2 August issued by the UNFC, the historic conference unanimously adopted the following important positions and decisions:

To form the present Union of Burma/Myanmar into a Federal Union of national states and nationalities states, having national equality and self-determination; To practice federal democracy in this Federal Union; To form federal union defense forces that will defend the Federal Union from external dangers; The current 2008 Constitution practiced by U Thein Sein government is not accepted, as it is devoid of democratic essence and not in accordancewith the principles of federalism; A new constitution based on genuine federal principles willbe drafted and promoted fpr practice; The UNFC and the UNA will lead in drafting the newconstitution, and a drafting committee consisting of representatives from the democratic forces, women organizations, youth organizations, CBOs, and other organizations will be formed, as part of the realization of the aim; In political dialogue and negotiation, the 6-point political program laid down by the Ethnic National Conference held in September 2012 will be followed; In political dialogue and negotiation, all the resistance organizations are to be represented as a bloc, and not individually.

After the three-day conference, the ethnic nationalities delegates held meetings on 1 August with representatives from eight democratic forces from inside and abroad and agreed to jointly carry out the common aims.

As reported by Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.) on 18 July, the remaining Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC) members, particularly the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), upon receiving reports that the UNFC had already called for an ‘Ethnic Conference for Peace and Reconciliation’, said a parallel conference would only cause confusion.

An unconfirmed report said the WGEC may be planning to hold a conference inside Burma.

An ethnic outcry said that a nationwide ceasefire agreement without adequate guarantees of political dialogue and monitoring mechanisms is unacceptable. There is a constant demand from the country’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution must guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the Parliament.

The new charter itself emerged in the course of a charade referendum (May 2008) cynically held a after a week of the Nargis cyclone that caused more than 138,000 deaths and left millions homeless. The bill was ratified by the parliament in January 2011. The biggest flaw in the constitution is the privileged 25 percent of the seats in the parliament are set aside for soldiers who are basically appointed to the legislative body by the commander-in-chief.

Aung San Suu Kyi has affirmed her readiness to run for president if the Constitution is amended to allow her to do so. Suu Kyi said it is her duty as leader of her National League for Democracy to be willing to take the executive office if that is what the people want. She said a clause in the constitution effectively barring her from the job is one of several her party seeks to change.

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UK Parliament Speaker John Bercow leads Burma delegation http://asiancorrespondent.com/111374/burma-president-receives-john-burcow-uk-parliament-speaker/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/111374/burma-president-receives-john-burcow-uk-parliament-speaker/#comments Wed, 31 Jul 2013 09:08:51 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=111374 Burma’s President Thein Sein received a British delegation led by Speaker of the House of Commons, UK Parliament Mr. John Bercow and party at the Credentials Hall of the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw on Tuesday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said today. The British Speaker of the House of Commons was accompanied by six parliamentarians of UK Parliament.

According to the newspaper, President Thein Sein and Mr Bercow had discussions on the release of political prisoners as well as taking penalizing actions against those involved in the conflicts between the two communities in Rakhine State and some other districts.  The two also talked about some issues such as humanitarian assistance to victims in conflict-stricken areas, constitutional amendments, humanitarian assistance for victims in Kachin State and peacemaking development to terminate domestic armed conflicts.

They also discussed the freedom of worship and the opening of a branch of Office of the United Nation High Commissioner on Human Rights Office (OHCHR) in Burma (aka Myanmar).

President U Thein Sein receives a British delegation led by Speaker of the House of Commons, UK Parliament Mr. John Bercow and party at the Credentials Hall of the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw on 30 July 2013. (Photo: http://www.president-office.gov.mm/en)

The President said that mechanisms are under way to guarantee the rule of law and socio-economic development of the country in line with the desires of the people.

He added that freedom of worship was allowed within the country in accordance with the Constitution. He also explained that the sectarian violence in Rakhine State and some other districts were criminal cases and that those responsible will be punished.

Speaker of People’s Parliament Thura Shwe Mann met the British delegation at Zabuthiri Hall in Parliament Complex on the same day. They had wide-ranging discussions on political reform in Burma, parliamentary affairs and matters related to bilateral cooperation between the two countries, the state-run media said.

John Bercow is a constant critic of the human violations of Burma’s former military rulers, such as this article published in the Independent’s online edition in 2007  – This vile regime in Burma has to be confronted.

He wrote:

I returned last week from a visit to the India-Burma border, with the human rights charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide and my Parliamentary colleague Caroline Cox. I heard tales of unimaginable brutality. I met people from Chin State in western Burma who had fled for their lives bearing tales of daily fear and misery – a cocktail of torture, killings, forced labour and rape, combined with more insidious policies of forced marriage, religious persecution and cultural genocide served up by the military.

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Burma creates a 109-member committee to review constitution under uncertainty http://asiancorrespondent.com/111311/burma-creates-a-109-member-committee-to-review-constitution-under-uncertainty/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/111311/burma-creates-a-109-member-committee-to-review-constitution-under-uncertainty/#comments Tue, 30 Jul 2013 15:12:15 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=111311 The Union Parliament of Burma accepted a proposal to shape a 109-member Joint Committee to Review the 2008 Constitution on 25 July in order to make indispensable changes.

The committee was set up with the deputy speaker of the Union Parliament as chairman along with the deputy speaker of the Lower House and the deputy speaker of the Upper House reserved for vice chairman. The committee was formed with members of parliament, members of political parties, military MPs and individuals.

The political game seems looking for solution to the hot constitution issue on the agenda for the 2015 general election. Parliamentarians from Burma’s ruling party on March 15 took the first step towards the possible revision of the constitution which was drawn up under the previous military junta and intentionally vetoes the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

The constitution says that candidates whose spouses or offspring are citizens of a foreign country shall not run in the presidential and vice-presidential selection. As Suu Kyi’s late husband Michael Aris and their two adult sons are British, people can easily see such clauses are targeted at the opposition leader.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi asks a question during a regular session of the parliament at Myanmar Lower House on 25 July, 2012, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

The constitution, which was passed in a rigged and undemocratic 2008 referendum, also sets aside 25% of parliamentary seats for military personnel chosen by the armed forces chief.

As reported in the  media news, the revision proposal was submitted to the lower house by Thura Aye Myint, vice chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and it was approved without any objection. Military appointed parliamentarians also voted in support of the proposal.

“I believe that the 2008 Constitution now requires reviewing according to the current situation of the country though it was written with a good cause for the future of our country,” Thura Aye Myint said at the parliament. “A committee or commission will be formed comprising of law experts, academics and professionals,” he added.

The 15-chapter 2008-Constitution, drafted in line with the key principles laid down by the previous junta, was promulgated in May 2008 after a public referendum.

Under existing constitution, a general election was held 0n 7 November 2010 and the USDP won majority of the parliamentary seats. The USDP Chairman Thein Sein has been elected as president of the new quasi-civilian government and run the office in March 2011.

In 2012, the government has amended the political party registration law to pave way for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi who was released from house arrest on 13 November, 2010. Then on 1 April 2012, her party run in the by-elections and won 43 out of 45 parliamentary seats, including one for Suu Kyi in the Lower House.

There is a constant demand from the country’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution must guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the Parliament. It is also required to include provisions against racial discrimination.

At the June 2004 National Convention, 13 ceasefire groups submitted a political proposal demanding equal access to the plenary session. But the convention’s convening committee dismissed the proposal as improper. When the 2008 Constitution came out, none of the political points proposed by the ethnic representatives were included.

The junta took 14 years to draft the current constitution. It was boycotted by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and others ethnic democratic parties who gained a landslide victory in the 1990 elections.

President Thein Sein has said recently to the BBC Burmese service that he will not run in the 2015 polls and he would not go up against Aung San Suu Kyi contesting for the top post.  Aung San Suu Kyi also wants revising the constitution especially with the military’s compulsory 25 percent quota in parliament.     

A constitutional amendment needs at least 75 percent supporters in the parliament. But the military-backed USDP has overpowered beyond 80 percent seats in the parliament. Burma’s current 2008-Constitution is inundated with misleading principles. It says the country must be united under one military command.

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Why do China’s high-level representatives visit Burma too frequently? http://asiancorrespondent.com/111059/why-do-chinas-high-level-representatives-visit-burma-too-frequently/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/111059/why-do-chinas-high-level-representatives-visit-burma-too-frequently/#comments Wed, 24 Jul 2013 16:19:24 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=111059 Burma’s President Thein Sein received a delegation led by General Fan Changlong, the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Liberation Army of China, at Credentials Hall of the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw on Tuesday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar said Wednesday.

According to the newspaper, Burmese President and the Chinese General discussed issues on peace development and stability in border areas including the topic of reaching perpetual peace with armed groups during the meeting,.

Burma’s President Thein Sein receives a delegation led by General Fan Changlong, the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Liberation Army of China, at the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw on 23 July, 2013.( Photo:http://www.president-office.gov.mm/en/)

Besides, the two leaders also discussed to work together furthermore between the two governments and two armed forces of Myanmar (Burma) and China as well. They agreed that friendly relations between Burma and all eastern and western countries have taken place since President Thein Sein government has taken office.  As said by the state media, Burmese President and the Chinese General also agreed to carry out strategically on comprehensive mutual partnership between the two countries as a second step.

Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Liberation Army of China General Fan Changlong was also welcomed by the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at Zeyathiri Beikman in Nay-Pyi-Taw on the same day, the state media reported.  At the welcoming ceremony, General Fan Changlong was cordially welcomed by the Senior General as both went to the podium and took the salute of the Guard of Honor.

According to the newspaper, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that Myanmar (Burma) will keep on maintaining strategic partnership with China. Both generals agreed to cooperate intimately between the two governments and the two armed forces on regional security issues in order to promote peace and stability in border region. Burma Army will have to put into practice establishing good relations with armed forces of other countries, Senior General highlighted. He also called for further cooperation to guarantee supportive and competent administrative system along with peace and stability in border regions. He also ensured increasing joint-efforts in eradication against narcotic drugs.

He further stressed not to allow any non-state armed groups in border regions between the two countries as a primary responsibility.

As the government in cooperation with the armed forces has determined to bring lasting peace, eleven  out of twelve ethnic armed groups have been reached ceasefire agreements, he added. Laws and rights for ethnic people of states and regions were enshrined in the 2008 Constitution and negotiation will be taken place in the hunt for peace, he added.

General Fan Changlong promised to strengthen strategic partnership of the two nations, and to cooperate with Myanmar/Burma for stability, security and eradication of narcotic drugs in the border region.

In last week of June, President Thein Sein also received a Chinese delegation led by Member of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Mr. Yang Jiechi at the Credentials Hall of the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw. Yang arrived in Nay-Pyi-Taw, the country’s new capital, for a two-day visit at the invitation of the Burmese government.

According to the Chinese State Councilor, the two countries are traditionally friendly neighbors and Sino-Burma relations and bilateral cooperation were underway. He acknowledged great steps made by consecutive leaders cementing bilateral relations and mutual friendship. Yang Jiechi highlighted the President’s efforts for steps forward in bilateral friendship and cooperation in culture.

Burma watchers believe the frequent visits of  Chinese high-level delegations indicate about China’s serious concerns due to Burma’s changing foreign policy towards the US and EU countries.  President Thein Sein government has suspended a controversial $3.6 billion Myitsone dam hydroelectric power project in September 2011 since the Chinese-financed project has faced objections from various social strata nationwide, according to the media reports.

According to analysts, criticism of the Chinese development projects has been getting higher in Burma as pro-democracy and environmental activists have started using their citizens’ rights under the new government, which is calling itself a reformist and working to become a democratic administration.

]]> http://asiancorrespondent.com/111059/why-do-chinas-high-level-representatives-visit-burma-too-frequently/feed/ 0 Burma President calls for end to sectarian violence http://asiancorrespondent.com/110946/burma-president-says-more-than-done-on-human-rights/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/110946/burma-president-says-more-than-done-on-human-rights/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 10:38:54 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=110946 Burma President U Thein Sein has urged the Interfaith Friendship Group and Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to cooperate with the government to help end the conflict the two communities in the country, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported today.

He insisted that the conflict between Buddhists and Muslims is being exaggerated and that it could damage the international image of the country and its reforms.

President U Thein Sein delivers a speech in meeting with Interfaith Friendship Group and Myanmar National Human Rights Commission at Yangon Region Government Office on 21 July 2013, Sunday.(Photo: http://www.president-office.gov.mm/en/)

The constitution of the country grants protection to the four major religions including Islam, said Thein Sein, adding that racial discrimination has no place in the country, he added.

He urged the group to work in partnership with the government. The first priority is the rehabilitation of the areas where the conflicts broke out, he said. According to him, his government has already spent over 6 billion kyats (US$6.1 million) on delivering aid to over 100,000 victims in cooperation with the international organizations.

He said action had been taken against the criminals involved in the conflicts and investigations would continue.

The second priority task is to prevent a repeat of such conflicts and the Interfaith Friendship Group is required to be part of the task to form region/state/township-level groups. He called on Myanmar Human Rights Commission to develop human rights education to increase the public’s awareness of their rights.

The third priority, he said, is to work towards a resolution on the origin of the conflict.

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Watchdog calls for probe into crimes against the media in Burma http://asiancorrespondent.com/110770/paris-based-watchdog-call-for-crimes-against-the-media-in-burma/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/110770/paris-based-watchdog-call-for-crimes-against-the-media-in-burma/#comments Wed, 17 Jul 2013 08:50:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=110770 Reporters Without Borders has written an open letter dated 16 July 2013 to Burmese President Thein Sein, who began a two day visit to France on Wednesday, calling for an investigation into the former military government’s crimes against the media since 1962.

Even though the organization was on a blacklist in Burma for more than 20 years, it kept a record of cases of journalists who were killed by the previous junta.  Some journalist-prisoners died as a result of torture they suffered in the junta-run prison system.

Reporters Without Borders says authorities announced the death of Ne Win, a correspondent for the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, at a press conference on 14 May 1991 saying he had died in hospital from cirrhosis of the liver. The army had accused him of being an opposition supporter but he had never been formally charged or tried, the watchdog said.

One month later, on 11 June 1991, Ba Thaw, a famous writer and satirist also known as Maung Thaw Ka, reportedly died of a heart attack in prison, the authorities said.

Seven years later, in August 1998, Saw Win, editor of the Botahtaung daily, died of a heart attack in Tharrawady prison. In fact, as said by his relatives, he had not been receiving necessary medical treatment. He had been sentenced to ten years imprisonment in 1990.

The organization’s letter also said that in September 1999, Thar Win, a photographer with the government newspaper Kye-mon, died of liver cirrhosis at a detention centre under the military intelligence department. He was arrested because his newspaper had published a photograph of Gen. Khin Nyunt, the then military intelligence chief, alongside a report headlined “The world’s biggest crook.”

Moreover, photographer Tin Maung Oo, who often worked for the National League for Democracy (NLD), was struck hard on the head by the junta’s thugs while he was taking pictures of an attack on Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade in Depayin on 30 May 2003. He died on the spot, the Reporters Without Borders mentions in its letter.

Campaign poster of Reporters Without Borders calling President Thein Sein of Burma to create a Commission of Inquiry dedicated to combating impunity for crimes against news providers since 1962. (Photo: Reporters Without Borders)

Kenji Nagai, a Japanese photographer and video journalist working for the Japanese news agency APF, was shot dead by a soldier at close range while in a crowd of demonstrators on a Rangoon street with his camera in his hand on 27 September 2007, during the Saffron Revolution.

According to the organization’s letter, Nagai death was unique as the scene was recorded on film and a witness for the entire international community to see. A Japanese embassy physician later confirmed that the bullet that killed him had hit his heart after entering through the chest, proving that he had been shot head on.

Hence, Reporters Without Borders urges President U Thein Sein to create a Commission of Inquiry dedicated to combating impunity for crimes against news providers since 1962. It says that Burma is now starting a new page in history and the process of democratization begun by his government will not be complete without an official effort to render justice for the victims of the previous military junta’s crimes.

The letter says, “The commission’s main task should be to investigate and, as best as possible, to establish the circumstances in which these six journalists died from 1991 to 2007. In addition to their deaths, journalists, media workers and bloggers were subjected to many other abuses by the junta, including arrest, violence, torture and hundreds of years in jail sentences handed down by courts on the military’s orders.”

“This commission’s goal should also be recognition of all the crimes against Burmese and foreign journalists and news providers since the start of the military regime, to be achieved by means of thorough documentation in which we are ready to participate,” it says.

Now the sitting President, Thein Sein was also the Prime Minister of the previous junta, and ought to consider the letter’s suggestions in favor of democratic change. If he does not he may not be regarded as a reformist president.

After the 1962 military coup, press freedom had no place in Burma.  Many writers and journalists were thrown into infamous prisons under the emergency security act created by the then military junta. Over the last fifty years, Burmese writers and journalists have called the PSRD censorship office the media secret-police.

The current government still needs to thoroughly improve the laws governing freedom of expression – especially the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, article 505/B of the criminal code, the 1996 Television and Video Act, the 1996 Computer Science Development Act, Internet Law (2000), Electronic Transactions Law (2004), the 1923 Officials Secrets Act and the 1933 Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act.

Burma is ranked 169th out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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Burma reaches a five-point agreement with Wa Army http://asiancorrespondent.com/110604/burma-reaches-a-five-point-agreement-with-wa-army/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/110604/burma-reaches-a-five-point-agreement-with-wa-army/#comments Sat, 13 Jul 2013 15:35:41 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=110604 Burma’s Union Peace-making Work Committee led by Vice-Chairman Thein Zaw and “Wa” Special Region (2) Peace-making Delegation led by Zhao Guo-an launched peace talks at Triangle Region Command Headquarters in Kengtung in Shan State (East) on Friday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported.

After the dialogue, both the Burmese government peacemaking team and the Wa peace delegation had reached a five-point agreement. Both sides agreed to carry on the agreements that emerge from the state-level and the union-level peace-talks.

The government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee and the Wa Special Region (2) Peace-making Committee also agreed to keep up mutual understandings, trust and an excellent tradition of peace and to continue cooperation for reaching everlasting peace through positive negotiations.

A young female recruit of the Kachin Independence Army, one of the country's largest armed ethnic groups, participates in battle drills at a training camp near Laiza. Pic: AP.

If any military issues emerge between the Burma Army and UWSA, both parties agree to resolve them in a mutually transparent approach as quickly as possible based on constructive traditions.

Since the Wa Special Region (2) is a inntegral part of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar/Burma, the breaking away of the Wa Region from the state is out of the question.  And for the perpetuation of sovereignty and territory of the state, the Wa Special Region (2) needs to make use of its capabilities for the advantage of the state.

Finally, an additional agreement was made to support the mutual cooperation between the Union government and the Wa Special Region (2) in progress of the region and eradication of narcotic drugs, according to the state-run media.

Five top Wa leaders arrived at Hwe Aw, opposite Chiang-mai, last Friday, 5 July, to hold pre-talks with local United Wa State Army (UWSA) commanders before actual negotiations with Nay-pyi-taw’s negotiators in Kengtung, 11-12 July, Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.) said on Wednesday referring to Thai security sources.

The UWSA is one of the 17 armed ethnic ceasefire groups that supported the Burmese military junta’s 14-year long National Convention that finished in September 2007.

Military observers pointed out that one of the root causes of growing tension between the government army and the UWSA was that the government wanted to re-control Wa’s southern part bordering Thailand, as reported by The Daily Eleven on 4 July.

Jane’s Defence Weekly said last April that United Wa State Army (UWSA) has for the first time acquired an armed rotary-wing aviation capability with assistance from China: the latest move in a programme of rapid re-armament. The Defence Weekly stated, “China delivered several Mil Mi-17 ‘Hip’ medium-transport helicopters armed with TY-90 air-to-air missiles to the Wa in late February and early March, according to both Myanmar ethnic minority and Myanmar government sources.”

In addition, the previous junta dogmatically insisted the nation must have only one army and that clause has been put in the unjust 2008 constitution which cannot be amended without permission of the armed forces. Currently, the Thein Sein government also wishes the Special Region (2) of the UWSA would act in line with the 2008 constitution. According to Article 338 of the military-drawn constitution: “All the armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defense Services.”

The UWSA and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) said they will uphold the following four principles: (1) They will not surrender. (2) They will not transform into BGF unless their autonomy demands are met. (3) They will not shoot first. (4) But they are ready to protect themselves and they will not secede from the Union, according to the sources from the Sino-Burma border.

According to Jane’s Intelligence Review in April 2008, China has become the main source of arms to the United Wa State Army. In an analysis of the Asian weapons’ black market, the Jane’s Intelligence Review says that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) rebel group in Myanmar acts as the “middleman” between Chinese arms manufacturers and insurgent groups in the Northeast, with most weapons routed through China’s Yunnan province.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a military observer from the China-Burma border, told Radio Free Asia (Burmese Service) that, aside from the helicopters, there were also reports that China had sent a large number of armaments and military-use vehicles to the China-Burma border in Sept. 2012, and that new weapons had recently appeared in the area.

The Wa military has about 30,000 soldiers, and some of their equipment is more advanced than that of the Burmese military, he said. The UWSA, formed by members of the Chinese-speaking Wa ethnic group, were one of several ethnic militias founded after the 1989 breakup of the Burmese Communist Party.

Despite declaring a noninterference policy, military analysts believe China is the major supplier of weapons to the Wa Army.

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Burma: President welcomes US-ASEAN Business Council delegation http://asiancorrespondent.com/110422/burma-president-welcomes-us-asean-business-council-delegation/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/110422/burma-president-welcomes-us-asean-business-council-delegation/#comments Tue, 09 Jul 2013 08:29:43 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=110422 The President of  Burma (Myanmar) Thein Sein has received a business delegation led by the President of the US-ASEAN Business Council Mr. Alexander Feldman at the hall of the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw on Monday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported.

President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar U Thein Sein received a business delegation led by President of US-ASEAN Business Council Mr. Alexander Feldman at the hall of the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw on 8 July, 2013. (Photo: Myanmar President Office Website)

According to the President, the USA-ASEAN Business Council served as an important institution for USA-ASEAN relations. He added that only peace and stability could bring about development of the national economy, through which the nation could make possible advancement towards a democratic goal. To fulfill that aspiration, the nation needs the support of the US-ASEAN Business Council.

The President added that his objective of cutting the country’s poverty rate by 16 per cent in 2015 was underway as the country has huge economic potentials with a wealth of natural resources and adequate manpower. He also mentioned the country’s strategic location flanked by South Asia and Southeast Asia offers a vast market for international investors. The President revealed the requirements of information and communication technology in telecommunications sectors. Foreign investors have been invited to work together with local operators as the country has a target of ensuring 80 per cent of its total population will have access to mobile services by 2015, he said.

Alexander Feldman, the US-ASEAN Business Council President, expressed his thanks in favor of the sector-wise bids for the US entrepreneurs. As the Council has started doing businesses in Burma, Feldman said he anticipated to reach more economic achievements. He also added that the trip was intended to strengthen businesses started 12 months ago. US investments will go where they are most needed such as in infrastructure projects and  health and education, he said.

On July 1, speaking at the US-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States remains committed to political and security engagement with ASEAN.

“[Burma] is a country that is setting a great positive trend and undergoing a dramatic political and economic transition,” Kerry said. Kerry noted that Thein Sein, works with a resurgent parliament that includes former military officers working alongside long-time democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The United States, the secretary said, “strongly supports [Burma’s] journey toward democracy, which is really something that might have even been unthinkable just a few years ago.”

Burma’s Foreign Ministers Wunna Maung Lwin co-chaired at the ministerial meeting. During the meeting, FM Maung Lwin highlighted the visit of Thein Sein to the United States in May this year as a historic moment in bilateral relations. During his visit, the President reiterated his country’s commitment to steadfastly continue its reform process.

“We firmly believe that the development of a relationship between Burma and the U.S. will strengthen bilateral relations and thus contribute to the advancement of the ASEAN-U.S. relations,” Wunna Maung Lwin said.

However, the United States imposed sanctions on Lt. Gen. Thein Htay, the head of the Directorate of Defense Industries, who it says violated a U.N. Security Council ban on buying military goods from North Korea despite Burma’s assurances it has severed such ties, AP News said on 2 July 2013.

Shwe Mann, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, told The Associated Press during a visit to Washington last month that Burma’s arms trade with North Korea has stopped.

“If there’s any information that we hear on this matter we will continue to take actions as required. Because our country, like others, will abide by the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” he said. “We are not neglecting this matter.”

Unless Burma brought to a halt its defense ties to Pyongyang, the United States may not entirely embrace the former rogue country.

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Burma Lower House endorses controversial media bill http://asiancorrespondent.com/110271/burma-lower-house-endorses-the-controversial-media-bill/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/110271/burma-lower-house-endorses-the-controversial-media-bill/#comments Fri, 05 Jul 2013 07:33:03 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=110271 The Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill submitted by the Ministry of Information with amendments was approved at Thursday’s Lower House of Parliament session, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported today.

“As the fourth pillar, the media play an essential part in the democratization processes. I am also a former media person and still  contribute an article every Monday for the Yangon Times Daily.  The government needs to protect the media and its freedom. This law can protect publishers. However, we need to do our best to upgrade media law up to an international standard,” said Thein Nyunt of Thingangyun Constituency.

The Lower House approved the controversial Printing and Publishing Enterprise Draft Law, even though members of the interim press council argue that the bill still includes measures that hinder media freedom. However, the bill has many supporters.

Khaing Maung Yi of Ahlon Constituency  said, “The press bill is urgently needed. It is essential for the smooth functioning of publishing business enterprises. The bill willbring benefits to people, printers and publishers.”

According to Democratic Voice of Burma, Interim Press Council member Zaw Thet Htwe said the press body is holding an emergency meeting on Friday in response to the Lower House’s approval of the draft media law.

Several journalists, along with the Committee For Freedom of Press (Myanmar) gathered at a media workshop at the Yuzana Garden Hotel in Yangon on March 12 calling on the government to revoke the draft Printing and Publishing Bill. (Photo: Committee For Freedom of Press (Myanmar) Facebook)

“During negotiations with the Ministry of Information, we pointed out clauses [that would limit press freedom] and we learnt that those clauses were still included in the draft law that was approved by the Lower House today,” said Zaw Thet Htwe.  “This means that the negotiations and discussions we had with the [ministry] were fruitless and this can hurt the cooperation between the Press Council and the Ministry of Information in the future. So we are going to talk with the Press Council members about how to deal with this.”

With the Lower House’s amendments, the draft law will have to pass on to Upper House for endorsement. If both Houses have the same opinion on the bill, then the Union Parliament has the power to enforce the draft legislation into law.

After the Ministry of Information submitted the draft law in February, journalists and watchdog agencies unleashed heavy criticism of the bill for containing provisions that pushed authoritarian measures that would allow for the continuation of censorship.

In March this year, three media groups – MJA, MJN and MJU – protested against the draft Printing and Publishing Law. It was drawn up by the Ministry of Information (MOI) submitted to Parliament on 27 February, 2013. They protested because MOI did not consult with media stakeholders before it put forward the draft bill to the House.

Several journalists, along with the ‘Committee For Freedom of Press (Myanmar)’, gathered at a media workshop at the Yuzana Garden Hotel in Yangon on March 12 calling on the government to revoke the drafted Printing and Publishing Bill.

The MOl’s draft bill strengthens government control over print media freedom. Many journalists say that it is no different from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law.

The President Thein Sein government wants to keep the country under limited or guided democracy while the greater part of population desires a genuine democratic change. Citizens continue to demand freedom of expression and association while the government is vetoing the people’s basic rights. Free press has had no chance so far in Burma.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) says in its press freedom report (2013), “To date, there is not much tangible proof of media reform, apart from the dissolution of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, and the publication of private news dailies that began on April 1, 2013.”

International media watchdog groups have repeatedly urged authorities of Burma to revoke unethical laws governing freedom of expression. The government still needs to dump the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, article 505-B of the criminal code, the 1996 Television and Video Act, the 1996 Computer Science Development Act, the 1923 Officials Secrets Act and the 1933 Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act, which are still menacing press freedom.

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