Burmese military not following terms of NCA, says Gen Yawk Serk

Gen Yawd Serk of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) says the Burmese military was not following the terms of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) when Brig-Gen Khin Zaw, the Burmese military attaché in Bangkok, on Wednesday banned a meeting of the Committee of Shan State Unity (CSSU) that was due to take place for three days starting yesterday in Chiang Mai. 

The ban was apparently due to the fact that a non-signatory to the NCA, the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army, or SSPP, had been invited. The Burmese brigadier-general said that the RCSS/SSA “infringed” Burma’s election law and endangered the peace process by inviting the SSPP.

“I have my doubts [about the Tatmadaw’s sincerity] when they accuse us of endangering the peace process,” Gen Yawd Serk said today at a press conference in the northern Thai capital. “If this is the case, they should contact our office.

“The military attaché says that the meeting was to include a non-NCA signatory group. This group is the SSPP. However, it should be noted that the SSPP regularly attends meetings within the UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council, a coalition of ethnic armed groups who declined to sign the NCA with the government in October 2015].

“So how can this be hindering the peace process if the UNFC regularly meets with the Tatmadaw and the government?”

He added: “Their accusation is unreasonable. We were not planning an underground meeting. It was announced officially. I just don’t understand how this [ban] can happen.”

“This letter [ordering the ban on the meeting] was sent directly from the Burmese military. But when we asked the government, they said they didn’t know anything about it.”

The CSSU meeting was slated to be held on July 20-22 in Chiang Mai. Members were to review the recent round of the Union Peace Conference, dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Conference. The members said the meeting was intended to improve future peace talks by ensuring there was a common understanding of the five issues under discussion: political affairs; security matters; economic affairs; social issues; and land and natural resource management.

RCSS/SSA leader Yawd Serk said that the Burmese military attaché has overstepped the terms and conditions of the NCA.

“This act affects good will,” said Gen Yawd Serk. “We are sincere about establishing a peaceful union. That’s why we are working on the terms of the NCA.”

On March 4, 2016, Shan Herald reported that a CSSU meeting in Yangon was also called off after intervention by local government officials.

The CSSU comprises: Shan political parties; Shan armed groups; and Shan community-based organizations, including the Shan State Joint Action Committee (SSJAC), which itself includes the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), the SSPP, the RCSS, the Seng Kiao People’s Militia, the New Generation Group (Shan State), Shan Youth Association, Shan Nationality Organization-Thailand.

Gen Yawd Serk is the current head of the CSSU.

Statement of the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU)

20 July, 2017

Members of the CSSU, which includes Shan political parties, armed organizations, and domestic and international civil society organizations, had planned to hold a meeting in Thailand on July 20, 2017. The intention was to review the proceedings of the recently held 3rd Union Peace Conference in order to improve results in future peace conferences by ensuring that there is a common understanding of the five issues under discussion – 1. Political Affairs, 2. Security Matters, 3. Economic Affairs, 4. Social Issues, and 5. Land and Natural Resources Management

However, on July 19, 2017, the Thai 3rd Regional Army informed the organizers that the Myanmar Military Attaché in Bangkok had requested the Thai Government to prevent the CSSU meeting from taking place. It was claimed that the CSSU was obstructing the Myanmar peace process and that the membership of the CSSU includes a non-signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

Taking into consideration the interests of the Thai Government and the long-term interests of the peace process, the CSSU decided that:

1. The CSSU meeting planned for 20-22 July 2017 will not take place;
2. In order to build peace, the Government (of Myanmar) needs to be broadminded, and if there are any doubts, clarification should be requested;
3. The planned CSSU meeting was going to discuss the five issues agreed in the NCA. Therefore the conference was not in any way obstructing the peace process;
4. The CSSU was established in 2013 to facilitate peacebuilding in order to establish a federal democratic union. We will continue to work to achieve our objective.

Committee for Shan State Unity

1. Sao Borng Khur (+66 2896 0970)
2. Sai Nyunt Lwin (+95 7324 1587)
3. Sai Boe Aung (+95 4100 1654)

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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OBITUARY: An evolving political legacy of Olive Yang

As Olive Yang's departure from the worldly existence, at the age of 90, news makes the round, my thoughts and memories, in somewhat similar to a sort of nostalgia swept over, for there were past I share in common, like my alma mater Guardian Angle's Convent, in northern Shan State Lashio, where she also went to school.  And together with it, a flashback of many family members of “Yang” and also “Lo or Law” from Kokang that were my schoolmates and classmates, including the sons of Hsenwi and Tawngpeng Saohpas (hereditary rulers), who were my contemporaries.

Besides, I could still recall several encounters and conversations with Olive Yang's elder brother Jimmy Yang, known as Sao Ladd in Shan and in Chinese Yang Kyein Sein, in Chiang Mai Thailand, in the early 1970s, when he was the general manager in Rincome Hotel, one of the two first class hotel in town during that time. The other one was Suriwongse Hotel, apart from the existence of a bit lower grade Prince Hotel, an American GI's frequented one watering hole, especially for those on leaves from the then ongoing war in Vietnam.

As my intention is to weave a convincing portrait of the deceased in an objective manner with what I could find from the secondary sources, I tried to recall my childhood memories, pouring through the books and documents that I have in my collection and, of course, by surfing the internet,  in an attempt to do justice to the legendary woman from Kokang that has been the talk of the town for decades.

In many of the short description on her character traits, two categorization of behavior came up as the main characteristic of Olive Yang. One is opium trafficking laced with warlordism and the other, lesbianism.

While no one would think of arguing against the said well-documented character traits, another facet that her involvement in the building of Kokang fighting force to a new capable height and its follow up events also need to be emphasized.

In addition, as she is still being seen as a good-doer, at least in the eyes of the many Kokangnese that are loyal to her and the Yang clan former rulers, this facet should be also explored. But first let us look at the well known part of her life that had been narrated, if not shedding new findings, just to keep the record of history straight.

Olive Yang, also known as Yang Lyin Hsui, was born in June 24, 1927 and went to Guardian Angel's Convent in Lashio for her education. By the time she was 19 she was already commanding an army of Kokang forces numbering some 1000, nicknamed the Olive's Boys, when she teamed up with the Kuomintang that was expulsed from mainland China in the 1950s, following the defeat of the Nationalist. Together they established opium trade routes along the golden triangle that meets Thailand, Laos and Burma to become the world’s most productive opium growing region,   according to Alfred McCoy’s 1972 book, “The Politics of Heroin”.

Other important milestones in her lifetime were:
·From 1948 to 1950, she was married to Twan Sao Wen, the son of Tamaing's chieftain, and had a son, Duan Jipu.
·From early 1950s to the mid-1960s she ran the Kokang Ka Kwe Yay (home guard outfit approved by the government) and was said to be a dynamic and forceful character, according to the late Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, a  noted Shan resistance leader and scholar in his “The Shan of Burma – Memoirs of a Shan Exile”.
·She was arrested by the Burmese authorities, along with her brother Edward Yang (Saohpa of Kokang) in mid-1960s according to  Chao Tzang Yawnghwe and was released in 1968.
·In 1989, she was recruited by Khin Nyunt to help broker ceasefires in Burma with ethnic rebel groups.
·She passed away on July 13, 2017 at the age of 90, in Muse Township, Shan State.

Regarding her romance and love life who professed to practice lesbian life style, “Her affairs and marriages to popular songstresses, starlets, and even an established film stars, Wah Wah Win Shwe, entertained the reading public,” wrote Chao Tzang Yawnghwe in his book, under the section of “Who's Who in Shan Politics”.

Olive Yang in the eyes of the Kokangnese

Regardless of her lesbian life style that was criticized and many found it highly entertaining, there were positive attitude on her and her undertakings that have to be taken into account.

Celebrated among the Kokang people, she was commonly referred to in Chinese as the
“second daughter of the Yang family,” according to the recent Irrawaddy report.

Between 1940-50, she set up a free school in Kokang where she invited Kuomintang generals to
teach the pupils. Drug lords Peng Jiasheng and Lo Hsing-han were among her students,
according to Kokang media.

Kokang media also described her as a revolutionary figure in the region who contributed greatly
to the local economy and education.

In 1989, she played a role in negotiating the ceasefire agreements between Burma’s military government and the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), together with Lo Hsing-han who used to be her follower. The then mutineer against the CPB from the Kokang faction was Peng Jiasheng, also her one time student and admirer.

This brings us  to the point to see what kind of impact the political legacy of empowering the Kokang military capability that Olive Yang has left for contemporary political arena to be played out and future prospect for the next generation to come.

During the time span of nearly seven decades, from 1950 to this very days, the Kokang military force was involved in many form of cooperation with various political organizations, such as being part of the covert plan, dubbed Operation Paper, devised as an early Cold War strategy against communism, which was approved by US President Truman in 1950, in collaboration with the Kuomintang; Shan revolution; U Nu's Parliamentary Democracy Party (PDP) movement aimed to overthrow the then General Ne Win's military government; Communist Party of Burma (CPB); and the ongoing conflict between Peng Jiasheng's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Burmese government-backed Bai Xuoqian.

Political legacy of Olive Yang

Olive Yang's political legacy is evolving and in the making. The Tatmadaw or Military-backed faction and Peng Jiasheng's MNDAA is still in a deadlock power struggle, which could actually be seen as a direct conflict between the Tatmadaw and MNDAA. From the Tatmadaw's point of view Peng Jiasheng has been infringing on national sovereignty, as the government installed Kokang Self-administration is legal, while Peng Jiasheng takes it to be justified to wrestle back his rightful place which the government has robbed him of, sided with his rival and chased him out in 2009.

The MNDAA, which is now part of the seven-party Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) also known as Panghsang alliance, poised to negotiate for the political settlement with the government, apart from being a member of Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B) that is actively taking part in the armed conflict with the Tatmadaw which is still ongoing, has been subject to the Tatmadaw's exclusion in the peace process.

Under such condition, we could only consider that the political legacy left by Olive Yang, to uphold Kokang's rights of self-determination and self-defense, is still very much alive and hard to imagine, if such accepted value and ideology aspirations among the Kokangnese would fade away anytime soon.


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Myanmar’s Myths of Ethnic Unity

Matthew J Walton muses on the effects of misleading narratives of the independence era.

The myths of ethnic unity are alive and well in contemporary Myanmar. While we might expect misleading historical claims from previous military-led governments or even the current NLD government, incorrect and problematic statements about the country’s ethnic past even come from those attempting to paint a more complex, even sympathetic picture. A recent op-ed from Myanmar political analyst Sithu Aung Myint is a good example of this. Considering the dispute over including a “non-secession” clause as part of the agreements to come from the 21st Century Panglong meetings, Sithu Aung Myint writes in support of the position adopted by most of the non-Bamar ethnic representatives, that the clause is unnecessary and insulting, given their stated commitments to being a part of Myanmar.

However, in making this argument, he also perpetuates one of the most problematic and a-historical perspectives on the independence period, which is that “The Bamar and the other ethnic groups fought together against the British for independence.” This simply is not true. While the Bamar-dominated Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) included members from non-Bamar ethnic groups as well as allied groups among the other ethnicities, responses to the end of British colonial rule were much more varied among the wider non-Bamar ethnic communities.

First, it wasn’t actually the case that anyone “fought…against the British for independence.” Independence was a struggle for Burma but didn’t involve actual fighting against the British after WWII. And even during that political struggle, opinions were often divided along ethnic lines. Shan saophas (hereditary leaders) were castigated as oppressive feudalists by Bamar nationalists but those supporting the saopha system saw more benefits to the British system of allowing local forms of rule to exist than to the political centralisation proposed by the AFPFL. This included not just those who materially benefited from the system, but also those who believed in its broader cosmological legitimacy. Accounts of the 1947 Panglong Conference also make clear that most non-Bamar ethnic representatives were convinced more by the instrumental arguments in favour of joining with the Bamar, rather than an emergent “nationalist” spirit or even anti-British sentiment.

The Karen were perhaps the most sceptical of the Bamar-led independence movement, in part owing to the strong ties between some Karen leaders and British colonial soldiers and administrators, fostered by Christian missionary zeal among the converted Karen. Karen desires for a separate (independent) state at the time were encouraged by sympathetic writings and public statements by prominent British figures. While views among the Karen overall varied widely, some of the most influential Karen leaders of the late 1940s advocated for a hypothetical “Karen Country” to remain under British dominion, as part of the Commonwealth. Many of them justifiably feared a Bamar-dominated independent Burma, given past violence perpetrated against Karen communities by Bamar-led militias.

Also left unaddressed in this claim of ethnic unity in the independence struggle is the fact that, because the group of Bamar leaders that would become the core of the AFPFL initially allied themselves with the Japanese in World War II, that conflict in Myanmar played out largely as battles between the Japanese and the Bamar on one side, and the British and most other ethnic groups on the other. Fierce combat during the war meant that Aung San’s defectors, once they finally grew disillusioned with Japanese rule, were met with scepticism and suspicion when they declared their willingness to join with the British Allied Forces. Even after the Japanese had been ousted, inter-ethnic conflict persisted across parts of Burma, putting the lie to any overarching claims of ethnic unity, either before or after the historic conference at Panglong.

Why is this minor mis-statement important in an article that is ultimately advocating for something on the side of the ethnic armed groups? I would argue that this myth of unity against the British is a damaging and intentional misremembering of the complex dynamics of a key foundational moment in Myanmar’s past that continues to have delegitimizing effects on non-Bamar ethnic communities and their political aspirations in the present.

There are many reasons to be critical of British colonial policies, whether they were intentionally designed to divide and weaken Burmese groups or simply misguided and based on ignorance of the multifaceted nature of identity in Burma at the time. However, persistently positing the British as the enemy in the independence struggle has the effect of painting any groups that supported or were friendly with the British as insufficiently committed to the Burmese national project, of suspect patriotism and motivated by self-centred interests, rather than collective good.

Inaccurate claims of pre-independence ethnic unity also undercut contemporary grievances of ethnic armed groups and representatives of non-Bamar ethnic groups. As I argued in my 2008 article on “The Myths of Panglong,” the predominant version of the NLD’s narrative of Panglong is that it has been prolonged military rule that has denied the promise of equality that was generated from the 1947 conference. This narrative relies on accepting the myth that the entire Burmese nation was united at the time of independence, but that military aggression through the 1950s and military rule from 1962 undermined this dream. The logical extension of this argument is that, with civilian (NLD-led) rule at least partly established, the country can now return to its independence-era condition of ethnic unity. Any continuation of an ethnic-oriented struggle would then be seen as illegitimate and narrowly focused on the interests of one’s own group, rather than the country as a whole.

I had this point brought home to me several years ago when I was invited to speak to a multi-ethnic gathering of young people in Yangon, about my work on Panglong and their own perspectives on the event and its mythos. The most consequential part of the discussion wasn’t about my own work, but was rather a heartfelt statement to the group from a young Bamar scholar who was assisting me with some research. He spoke openly about how, until he had begun reading independently, what he had been taught from textbooks, teachers and family was that contemporary ethnic struggles were based on selfish material concerns, not on legitimate political grievances. His apology, and recognition of the validity of these struggles, was a powerful moment, but one that suggests that many Bamar people likely still hold at least partially biased and misinformed views on Myanmar’s ethnic history, even if they hold some sympathy toward the groups that have borne the brunt of military abuses over the past five decades.

The national reconciliation process in Myanmar should not be looking back to some constructed historical moment of fictional ethnic unity but rather recognising Panglong as aspirational. At best, Bamar political leaders in 1947 made promises that were never fully kept, not even in the 1947 Constitution. But the original Panglong conference was even less inclusive than today’s elite-dominated discussions and the provisional nature of the agreement made there is an essential part of the narrative that underlies every continuing struggle for ethnic equality in Myanmar today.

I am sure that many from non-Bamar ethnic groups appreciated Sithu Aung Myint’s support for their position on a “non-secession” clause. However, their broader cause would be better supported by a more concerted effort from Bamar elites to accurately represent Myanmar’s complicated ethnic past and in doing so, lay the groundwork for a national dialogue based on honesty, inclusion and recognition.

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UN envoy Yanghee Lee told about continued human rights abuses in Shan State

Representatives from a Shan civic group say they briefed Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Burma, on Saturday about ongoing human rights violations in Shan State.

Representatives from Tai Youth Network (TYN) met with UN envoy Ms Yanghee Lee on July 15 in Lashio Township, northern Shan State.
Sai Naw Seng, an executive member of the Tai Youth Network (TYN), an umbrella organization comprising youth groups from across Burma, said that he and his colleagues met with Ms Lee at Golden Hill Hotel in northern Shan State’s Lashio Township on July 15. 

“We told her about last year’s Mong Yaw murder case,” he said. “And about the situation of villagers in Namtu who cannot go home at present because of continued hostilities in their areas.”

He said he also briefed the UN envoy about land violations concerning the coal mining industry in Nam Ma and Mong Kung, and noted that villagers’ lands were confiscated by the Burmese military in Kehsi Township.

The Shan activist said: “We also told her about the case in Yangon in December 2006 when fake protesters turned out in ethnic costumes to purportedly show their support for the Burmese military. Also, we mentioned a recent incident in which a famous Burmese actress wore ethnic costume in her play and was depicted as an alcoholic, a stereotype that was damaging to the image of highland peoples in Burma.”

Speaking to Shan Herald, he added: “We also told her that we believed that native ethnic languages should be taught during school’s hour.

“With regard to those issues, she [UN envoy Lee] told us that she will talk to the government.”

Lee is on her sixth visit to Burma, staying from 10 to 21 July, and is slated to visit Rakhine, Shan and Kayin States, as well as Yangon and Naypyidaw.

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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UNODC's Jeremy Douglas: ‘Myanmar really is the epicentre of the drug trade’

On June 26, the government commemorated the International Day Against Drug Abuse by burning illicit drugs with a street value of more than US$200 million at a lavish ceremony in Yangon. Despite these publicity stunts, drugs remain a major issue in Myanmar, with the country still the second-largest producer of opium in the world. Frontier’s Oliver Slow spoke to UNODC regional representative Mr Jeremy Douglas about the extent of illicit drug use in Myanmar, measures being taken to improve treatment for users and the agency’s programmes aimed at combatting transnational crime.

To what extent is Myanmar a hub for the drug trade in Southeast Asia?

This really is the epicentre of the drug trade, at least in the Mekong region. If you look at the heroin trade, it is the epicentre; if you look at methamphetamine, it is one of the key players.

If you start at the production side of drugs, we’re looking at precursor control. Precursors are the chemicals you need to make drugs, and they are coming from China and India primarily.

This country does not have the chemical industry needed to make both major drug types, heroin and methamphetamine, which require chemical flows in order to be made. The drugs are being made in high volume, which means there’s a high volume of chemicals coming in.

We are really putting a push on regional cooperation to stop or slow the chemical trade into the drug producing areas, because they would hopefully make a bit of a dent in production. We really have to emphasise that – it’s something that is under-appreciated and needs a lot more attention.

We’re also looking at production itself in the country, looking at the source of the drugs. So if it’s heroin, it will be Shan State – northern Shan and southern Shan – and we’re working with the government in southern Shan State. And then if its methamphetamine then it’s around some of the ceasefire group areas. So we are talking to [the government] about how we can reduce trafficking flows, and we’re also talking about drug use and drug treatment. We’re really trying to prioritise how we can improve the delivery of drug treatment through the public health system.

Could you elaborate on that?

We’ve been working with the government and surrounding country governments who have agreed on a new modality for drug treatment that will, from our perspective, be much more effective. The tradition here has been something called compulsory drug treatment; basically someone is a drug user, they come into contact with the justice system and get put into treatment, but it’s not voluntary, and not necessarily based on scientific evidence.

Working with the World Health Organization, we’ve come up with a programme called community-based treatment, which helps stream people into appropriate treatment. It is voluntary and evidence based. The government here has signed on to this with its neighbours and now we’re looking at how we can scale up with the Ministry of Health.

Do you have a timeframe for implementation?

It’s already started. We have started training and we have got more training sessions for medical practitioners in the next couple of months. The reality is that it’s going to take funding, and so the government itself has to look at how it’s going to be able to deliver it. We’re going to be able to assist with some funding, but it’s going to be somewhat limited given the size of the drug problem. So we really need the government itself to make an investment.

Why is this approach an improvement?

At a fundamental level you need things to be voluntary. People who volunteer for medical treatment go because they want results. Which means when they go in, they are doing so on their own volition and want to come out the other side not using drugs.

But when people are forced into drug treatment, or they end up in prison, often there is no rehabilitative effect. It doesn’t actually reduce drug use or harm type activities. So this will improve the outcome of the treatment.

We are training people in how to identify certain signs of drug use, and the type of drug use that a person has, and we stream them appropriately. For example, only about 10 percent of drug users need residential treatment, the other 90 percent need varying forms of counselling and lifestyle choice advice on how to reduce their drug use.

You mentioned poppy cultivation earlier. What sort of trends are we seeing in this area?

We’ve seen it level off, but it has levelled off at high amounts. So if you look back a decade ago it was at a low of say 20,000 hectares or so. We’re now looking at just under 60,000, but it has levelled off.

What do you think is the reason for hitting that plateau?

There are a variety of reasons that it would have levelled off. Some of the interventions we’ve had with the government have been somewhat successful. They’ve been modest in scale, but have been successful in reducing [cultivation] in certain areas. At the same time there are market indicators at play. Demand for opium is probably at equilibrium point, so that will be another reason.

UNODC issued a report earlier this year saying that poppy cultivation is higher in areas with poor security. Could you talk a bit about that?

We see this around the world: where the government is able to provide security and good governance, you generally don’t see drug cultivation. That happens in South America, in Colombia for example, and it happens here in the Golden Triangle.

If you look at the pattern of conflict here, particularly places like northern Shan where there has been an outbreak of conflict with different groups, that actually is the one place in the country where you do see rising opium production.

That’s not surprising. There’s … no government control regarding the social issues and education. These places are cut off, they’re isolated, and drug production is one of the ways they can make a living.

How much of an issue are methamphetamines in Myanmar today?

It’s an enormous problem.

More so than opium?

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that. The police have been telling us for a couple of years, but it’s really now proving itself to be true. It’s highly available in almost every corner of the country.

You didn’t see that five or six years ago. Then, it was mainly for export, but now it’s actually being used inside the country.

At the same time, we’re seeing diversification of the market. It used to be yaba, which is a low-grade pill form of methamphetamine, but now we see crystal meth, which is high purity. We’re seeing large seizures of crystal meth that have emanated from certain parts of the country.

Have you identified a reason why there’s been such a proliferation of these types of drugs?

There’s been an attempt to understand the demand. It started to take place a few years back, and so the demand is still there. It was dumped into the market at a very low price. In some parts of the country you can buy it for a dollar a pill. It’s cheap in other markets, but not that cheap. So it’s cheap and easily available here.

Last week a video was posted on social media of yaba pills being hidden in chillies. How sophisticated are these networks becoming and how difficult are they to track?

This comes back to the difference between methamphetamine and heroin. Because methamphetamine isn’t geographically specific, it can be made basically anywhere, so the fact of the matter is we don’t know exactly where it comes from. You can’t trace it back to source, which means you have to develop intelligence on the networks, and the networks that make methamphetamine are very different from those that make heroin because they’re very small and tight-knit.

And they can use different techniques. As you say, they can embed it in things like chillies, they can embed it in any product essentially, so it’s really hard to trace and track.

UNODC doesn’t only focus on drugs. What are some of the other crime-related issues that you’re following closely in Myanmar?

One of the bigger issues that we’re concerned about here right now is timber trafficking. The country is a source country, one of the few in the region with remaining large original forest cover, and there’s [a] market nearby where there is a lot of demand for high value timber.

We’re also looking at other forms of transnational crime: human trafficking, migrant smuggling. We’re very proud of our border management programme. We’ve established borders posts with neighbouring countries, one on either side of the border, to help countries cooperate together. Those border posts can work on multiple types of transnational crime. We’ve established them with China, Laos and Thailand and now we have a team leaving to go to Maungdaw [in northern Rakhine State] and establish one on the Bangladesh border.

Another issue attracting a lot of attention in Myanmar is wildlife trafficking. Are you also involved in combating that?

Often there’s a connection between wildlife trafficking and timber trafficking, so we have a programme working with the government on both. This country is a source country for wildlife, which might be going to larger markets in neighbouring countries, but it’s also potentially a transit country, like Thailand. This place has an active international port, and therefore has the potential to be a transit country.

And are there any animals more at threat than others, or is it all of Myanmar’s wildlife?

I think it’s all of it. We’ve seen a large number of reports recently, and our wildlife experts talk about the trade in elephant skins, which is apparently harvested from elephants here for medicinal purposes. People believe [the skins have] special healing powers. That’s very alarming if it’s happening on a large scale because there aren’t many elephants left. Of course we also know about pangolin and different bird species that are being trafficked.

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Immediate Release: Joint Statement - Myanmar Authorities Must Immediately Release and Drop Charges Against three Detained Journalists

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, condemn the arrest, detention and prosecution of six people, including three journalists, under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act in Myanmar. We demand that these charges against them are dropped and that the three journalists are immediately and unconditionally released, as they have been detained solely in connection with their peaceful journalistic activities. The three journalists, Thein Zaw (also known as Lawi Weng) from the Irrawaddy magazine, Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), as well as those with them at the time - Mai Tun Aye, Mai San Nyunt, and Mai Aung Kham - were detained by the military on 26 June, 2017 in northern Shan State. They were detained after attending a ceremony in an area controlled by the ethnic armed organization, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

On 28 June, all six men were charged with being in contact with an unlawful association under section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, a law that has been in place since colonial times. Mai San Nyunt and Mai Aung Kham, the drivers of the vehicle transporting the journalists, were additionally charged with Article 8 of the 2012 Export and Import Law for using a vehicle without a licence. They are all currently being held at Hsipaw prison in northern Shan State, and their next court appearance is scheduled for 21 July. If convicted under the Unlawful Associations Act, they each face between two and three years’ imprisonment as well as a fine. A lack of independence of the judiciary and arbitrary use of the Unlawful Associations Act makes the situation for the six detained individuals particularly worrisome.

The Unlawful Associations Act is often used by the Myanmar Army to arbitrarily imprison people from ethnic minority and conflict affected areas. Myanmar’s military has previously launched large scale offensives against the TNLA and fighting between the two continues.

In order to undertake their work, journalists need to be able to report from both sides of a conflict. On 27 June, 25 news outlets, organizations and journalist networks published an open letter to the President, State Counsellor and Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Army. The letter described the arrests as “restricting and censoring the press” and argued that all people in Myanmar should be able to receive information from regions controlled by ethnic armed organizations.

The arrest of the three journalists signals the alarming decline of press freedom in Myanmar. Despite the election of a civilian-led government, Myanmar remains a hostile place for journalists and human rights defenders to operate. Defamation suits under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act have been increasingly used against journalists. Harassment using the criminal justice system is a tactic frequently used to delegitimize, undermine and punish the work of journalists and human rights defenders.

Article 6 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including having access to information.”

We urge the Myanmar authorities to take immediate action to:

Immediately and unconditionally release Thein Zaw, Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung, who have been detained solely in connection with their peaceful journalistic activities;

Drop all politically-motivated charges against Mai Tun Aye, Mai San Nyunt and Mai Aung Kham;

Repeal the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act and Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act and immediately review, amend or repeal other existing repressive laws including the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, relevant sections of the Penal Code, the media laws and others to ensure they comply with international human rights law and standards;

Undertake urgent legal and practical measures to ensure the independence, competence, impartiality and accountability of judges, lawyers and prosecutors;

Enact specific legislation and other measures to create a safe and enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders in accordance with international human rights standards.

Endorsed by:

1.      Action Committee for Democracy Development (ACDD)
2.     All India Network of Individuals and NGOs working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI)
3.     Amnesty International
4.     Arakan Observer Group
5.     Arakan Watch
6.     Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
7.     Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)
8.     Association Suisse Birmanie (ASB)
9.     Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
10.  Burma Campaign UK (BCUK)
11.   Burma Centre Delhi
12.  Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
13.  Burma Link
14.  Burma Monitor Group (BMG)
15.  Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
16.  Bytes for All
17.  Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO)
18.  Christian Solidarity Worldwide
19.  Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
20. Community Partners International (CPI)
21.  Farmer and Labour Activists Group (FLAG)
22. Fortify Rights
23. Free Burma Campaign (South Africa) (FBC) (SA)
24. Frontier Myanmar
25. Future Light Center (FLC)
26. Genuine People’s Servants (GPS)
27.  Human Rights Defenders Alert
28. Human Rights Alert Manipur
29. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP)
30. Institute for Asian Democracy
31.  Info Birmanie
32. International Campaign for the Rohingya
33. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
34. Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
35. Interfaith Cooperation Forum
36. Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG)
37.  Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT)
38. Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG)
39. Karen Women’s Organization (KWO)
40. Kayan National Party (KNP)
41.  Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
42. Let’s Help Each Other (LHEO)
43. Mae Tao Clinic (MTC)
44. Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA)
45. Network for Social Development and Peace
46. Norwegian Burma Committee (NBC)
47. Odhikar
48. People's Watch (PW)
49. Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
50. Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI)
51.  People Empowerment Foundation (PEF)
52. Progressive Voice (PV)
53. Pusat KOMAS
54. Quarterly Journal of Federalism
55.  Ramhkye
56. Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU)
57.  Rohingya Academy
58. Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC)
59. Rohingya Youth Development Forum (RYDF)
60. Social Harmony and Inclusive Development Organization
61.  Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
62. Swedish Burma Committee
63. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
64. Tavoyan Women’s Union (TWU)
65. Think Centre
66. United States Campaign for Burma
67. Yaung Chi Oo Workers’ Association (YCOWA)
68. စိမ္းလန္းျပင္ဦးလြင္

For further information, please contact:

1. Sejin Kim, Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Senior Programme Officer, Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); +66 (0) 2 1 082 64346, hrd@forum-asia.org (English)

2. Aung Khaing Min, Executive Director, Progressive Voice; +66 (0) 97 995 5305, akm@progressive-voice.org (Burmese/English)

3. Kristina Jelmin, Executive Director, Swedish Burma Committee; +46 (0) 70 759 8046, kristina@burmakommitten.org (English/Swedish)

Download this Joint Statement HERE.

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THE ROW BETWEEN THE MILITARY AND NLD: Casting aspersions or blocking constitutional amendment?

Within just a little more than two months, the Tatmadaw or the Military has complained twice in a row of the National League for Democracy's (NLD) top functionaries in what amount to sensitivity over casting aspersions on it's political image and posture, which have led to bad press coverage, including the degradation of its self-appointed, sole protector of national sovereignty and national unity bastion role.

In May, the NLD Central Executive Committee's secretary, Win Htein was accused of tarnishing the image and reputation of the Tatmadaw during his meeting with the reporters.

According to Myanmar Times, on May 3, a Facebook account named “NLD Central News” that went online in April 29, posted on its page that President U Htin Kyaw would resign after State Counselor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi returns from her visit to Europe.

On May 4, Win Htein told reporters that some individuals or organizations were targeting the party by spreading fake news concerning the actions of certain party officials and those in authority.

The Military statement, quoting Win Htein answering a reporter during the May 4 briefing said, “It is difficult to tell who the suspects are because we are hearing a lot of things on the matter. Was it the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party]? Was it done by some Tatmadaw organizations? Did some IT experts who don’t like us do it? It is hard to say.”

However, Win Htein responded to the Tatmadaw's accusation with humor saying that he felt like being pelted with a flower.

“They themselves said it. It wasn’t even in my words. I just answered the question when asked who I thought it was that was distributing fake news. I answered that it could be this or that person. I did not accuse anyone directly. Their response has no effect on me, it feels like they are throwing flowers at me,” he told the reporters at the Sibin guest house in Nay Pyi Taw after the CEC meeting on May 6, according to the Myanmar Times.

At a workshop funded by USAID – to help integrate the former political prisoners back into the society - held on July 9 in Yangon, Phyo Min Thein, Yangon Chief Minister, warned participants that the country is still moving toward becoming a full-fledged democracy.

“There are no civil-military relations in the democratic era. The military should be under civil administrative rule and the commander-in-chief position is the same as a director-general in accordance with protocol. But we are now dealing with the [commander-in-chief] as head of state. This is not democracy,” Phyo Min Thein said.

Tatmadaw's response

On May 11 and 12, the Tatmadaw’s press team released statements that said Phyo Min Thein’s comment had hurt relations between the government and the Military.

Myanmar Times reported: “U Phyo Min Thein’s reckless and confrontational comment on the Tatmadaw and its commander-in-chief is damaging the government’s goal of national reconciliation and the process of building a long-term relationship between the government and Tatmadaw, and the people and Tatmadaw. Therefore, the Yangon chief minister is deemed a person creating obstacles,” quoting the statement.

Apart from that, the statement said that Phyo Min Thein is not suitable for “constructive and long-term” relations and the Tatmadaw wants the government to take action against him, adding that his  “no civil-military relations in a democracy’”clearly showed his observation weakness, regarding the important role of the Tatmadaw in nation-building, and  harboring confrontational nature.

To drive home its message, the statement stressed: “U Phyo Min Thein’s comments on the commander-in-chief who is on an overseas trip, is an attempt to offend the armed forces and its chief and damages the Tatmadaw chief and the Tatmadaw’s images.”

The statement also cited the government announcement of June 3, 2016, which ranked the commander-in-chief eighth in order of precedence (protocol) from 38 people on the list of state protocol. Accordingly, state and regional ministers are ranked at 36.

Backing and reprimanding of NLD leadership

According to July 12 video report of  DVB, Nyan Win who is on the party’s central executive committee (CEC), defended Phyo Min Thein , saying there is no reason to take action against  him if the Tatmadaw accepts the truth.

He made his point by saying: “It is true that the commander-in-chief is the head of governmental organization and directors-general are heads of their civilian organizations as well, so they are on the same level.”

But added: “The fact that the commander-in-chief is more powerful due the political configuration (the military-drawn 2008 constitution) has nothing to do with it and according to the said (theoretical) thinking, they are the same level.”

He further stressed: “According to the (2008) constitution, commander-in-chief is a lot more higher. But our party has been continuously saying that this is absolutely wrong from the beginning. So we cannot give in (or change) our stand, just because it is included in the constitution. Things that are included in the constitution are not all correct and have lots of mistakes; in all 168 points (clauses) have to be corrected.”

However, on July 13, the NLD leadership warned Phyo Min Thein for his statement and the on July 14, the following day, issued an internal memo which said: “The party’s CEC has warned U Phyo Min Thein for what he said at a workshop held in collaboration with USAID . . . CSOs and Media in Yangon on July 9,” according to the report of The Irrawaddy, which claimed to have seen the memo, on July 16.

In addition, on July 16, Ministry of Defense Office issued a statement that Phyo Min Thein's letter of apology addressed to the commander-in-chief on July 13 has been received. But nothing was mentioned on whether the issue has been resolved from the Military's point of view.

Earlier on July 13, government spokesperson Zaw Htay said that the Yangon Chief Minister’s remarks on the army  chief’s position do not reflect the government’s stance and  had “caused misunderstandings between the government and  the military.”

According to The Irrawaddy, Zaw Htay said: “Those comments caused misunderstandings between the government and the military. As  the chief minister is responsible [for what he said], we have instructed him to do what he  needs to do.”
When pressed for further detail, the spokesperson said: “We can only  share that so far.”

Perspective and outlook

The row between the Tatmadaw and Phyo Min Thein is an existing latent conflict caused by the hybrid civilian-military political system which has been there from the beginning and is programmed to come out in the open every now and then, from time to time.

While the Suu Kyi-led NLD is hoping that in due course the Military could be wooed or would change its mind and become democratic, the Military in turn is driving to convince the NLD to accept the quasi-civilian unitary system rule as a model where it could maintain its political edge for as long as it is needed.

The military knows what it wants and what to do, but the NLD doesn't seem to have any strategy on how to achieve its goal of fully-fledged democracy except to appease the military so that it is not to upset and resort to total control of the polity through emergency rule or coup d'etat.

The recent protest on Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein by the Military for casting aspersion on its commander-in-chief is actually just part of the problematic relationship which stems from civilian-military hybrid government system that has plagued the country from the outset.

But if one looks at the situation deeper the two episodes are linked to the bigger picture of constitutional amendment.

It is clear that in a democratic form of governance the military has to take orders from the elected government.

The Aung San Suu Kyi headed NLD regime comes into being through the popularly elected votes, with the slogan of “time to change”, albeit for only 75% of seats, as the 25% is reserved for the appointed Military's MPs according to the military-drafted constitution.

Under such circumstances, the NLD government functions as a coalition partner of the Tatmadaw although there is no existence of clear and transparent coalition contract like it supposed to be in developed democratic countries. But, of course, no one knows for sure if there are unwritten verbal understanding between the Military and Suu Kyi, as she has met General Than Shwe, prior to the take over of the government from its predecessor regime, who is considered to be still influential on the Military establishment and was the one that installed the present commander-in-chief Min Aung Hliang.

But regardless of such speculation the reality in actual political arena is that the two coalition partners are locked in an unspoken confrontation to further their ambitions. While the NLD is tasked with having to deliver the aspirations of the electorate which is the installation of fully-fledged civilian government, the Military is determined to protect and nurture it political edge for the benefit of its organization, if not just for its group survival made up of the military top brass.

To this end, the military has been making use of a variety of coordinated approaches and tactical moves to maintain its political supremacy . Such as:

·        Making use of the NLD's legitimacy to open up sanctions, including the normalization of military relationship with the West and beyond;

·        Maintaining its veto power on constitutional amendment and political edge through the military-drafted constitution – as it is vested with power to run the most important ministries of home, defense and border affairs, including 25% appointed MP seats in all levels of the parliaments;

·        Employing Unlawful Association Act Article 17(1) and Telecommunication Law Section 66(d) to quell resistance in ethnic states and general control for all activities countrywide that it considers to be against its interest;

·        Keeping the war flames on by excluding some of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), conducting offensives in ethnic areas and rejecting all-inclusiveness participation in the peace process;

·        Giving lip service to federalism while openly vowing to protect the military-drafted constitution, which in no way could be argued as being a federal constitution,  to its utmost, including blocking the amendment of the constitution that would weaken its control in general;  and

·        Through its refined push and pull maneuver has managed to push the NLD to endorse its stance or tacit approval against all-inclusiveness and its hard-line policy that has led to the international accusation of human rights violations in Arakan, Kachin and Shan States, among others.

The NLD on the other hand seems to be now resigned to treading lightly more than ever, where the constitutional amendment is concerned after some attempted failures within the parliament, due to the 75% approval ceiling needed by the parliamentarians to make amendment proposal even to sail through the first motion in the parliament.

Older members mostly tend to favor to go slow and refrain from challenging the military on constitutional amendment. But younger members are frustrated and want to accelerate the change that the NLD has promised in its election campaign manifesto. Thus, a certain latent conflict could be said to exist within the rank and file of the party. In general, the NLD has been echoing the Military's position to restore peace first and constitutional amendment later.

Recently, Win Htein talked and argued that the NLD is still on the ball and that gradual changing of constitution is the way to go, by using the Burmese words "da saint saint" evolutionary change, which could be translated into"seeping in slowly", whatever he meant to say by that.

Given such an atmosphere, the Military and the NLD latent conflict will linger on and rows such as Phyo Min Thein, Win Htein and Military would definitely pop up now and then again. But for now the constitutional amendment is being pushed back to be a back-burner, at the expense of the electorate that have weighed in their lot, believing that Suu Kyi and her NLD would be able to deliver on their election campaign manifesto of “time to change”.

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