"Land Grabbing: Perspectives from East and Southeast Asia"


International Academic Conference on

"Land Grabbing:
Perspectives from East and Southeast Asia"

5-6 June 2015
Chiang Mai University, Thailand
The Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) is collaborating with several initiatives and institutions to hold an international conference on, “Land Grabbing: Perspectives from East and Southeast Asia”, with a regional focus on East  and Southeast Asia, with emphasis on land grabbing, responses to climate change consequences and policy responses as well as resource conflict. It will be held on 5-6 June 2015 in Chiang Mai, Thailand and to be hosted by The Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) of Chiang Mai University.

The purpose of the 2015 Chiang Mai conference is to continue deepening and broadening our understanding of global land deals – but in the specific regional context, with special attention to climate change and the role of China and other middle income countries within the region. As before, we remain open to broader topics around land grab intersections with political economy, political ecology and political sociology, and will convene a series of parallel sessions on a range of themes responding to the issues below (and others):

·       Agrarian Change
·       Finance
·       Green Grabbing
·       The role of BRICS/China, other East Asian countries and middle income countries (MICs)
·       Resistance and Alternatives
·       International Policy ActorsAnd many more…

The organizers invite papers that offer rigorous and innovative analysis of this list of issues. Papers based on recent, original field research are especially welcomed. We also encourage comparative studies. Doctoral students and younger researchers, particularly from within the region, are especially encouraged to participate.

The deadline for Paper Submission: 31 October 2014
More information about the conference, please visit 
http://rcsd.soc.cmu.ac.th and www.iss.nl/ldpi.

For further inquiries, please contact 

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Peace process in limbo, when ceasefire is a joke

Col Sao Swy Mangrai, Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), was asked during a meeting, “How’s the ceasefire going?” In response, he stretched out his arms like he was holding a gun and said, “Like this. Cease! (releases the trigger and lowers the gun) Fire! (raises the gun and squeezes the trigger). Cease! Fire! Cease! Fire!”

He repeated his demonstration until his audience got the message and laughed.

But, lamentably, it wasn’t – and isn’t – a laughing matter.

Since it had signed both “state level” and “union level” ceasefire agreements with Naypyitaw on 28 January 2012, the SSPP/SSA had already been engaged in more than 150 clashes with the Burma Army, that had launched at least 6 major operations against it, after it refused to move out from its long-established strongholds along the west bank of the Salween:
·       June 2012                              Loi phapheung
Mong Awd Tract
Monghsu township

·       July 2012                                7th mile camp
Mong-Kao tract
Tangyan township

·       February 2013                    Loilarn
Mong-Long tract
Tangyan township

·       March 2013                          Kawnghsai-Hwe Pu
Loizay tract
Tangyan township

·       June 2014                              Loi Hseng
Namtawng tract
Monghsu township

·       June-October 2014          Ta Pha Hsawng
Wan Warp tract
Kehsi township

Most recently on 9 October, flushed with victory over the removal of the SSA from Ta Pha Hsawng 6 days earlier, the Burma Army, through its Shan State minister Col Aung Thu, “notified” it to withdraw its troops from Nam Hsi Zeng-Loilarn, near the Salween crossing of Ta Man Hsom.

(Note On the opposite bank in the east is Pangyang, the gateway to the United Wa State Army’s headquarters in Panghsang aka Pang-Kham). 

There is no question what will happen if the SSA refuses to budge, ceasefire or no ceasefire, agreement or no agreement.

According to the 5-point ceasefire agreement signed in Taunggyi, “It is agreed that SSPP/SSA units, headquartered in Wanhai (Kehsi township), will be deployed pro tempore at present positions.”

The Burma Army appears to be long past caring about the text of the agreement, insisting that SSPP/SSA units are not allowed to move outside Wanhai. That doing so violates the agreement, thereby permitting the Burma Army to do whatever it wants with it.

Incidentally, the same position has been taken with regards to the SSPP’s cousin in the south, Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA). While the text of the 16 January 2012 agreement says: Homong  and Monghta (on the Thai-Burma border) are designated as towns for RCSS/SSA headquarters, the Burma Army’s interpretation is that RCSS/SSA units are not allowed to move outside Homong-Monghta areas. As a result, more than 100 clashes have taken place between the two sides, which included one major operation.

Clearly, the Burma Army’s present target is the SSPP/SSA. But the RCSS/SSA knows well who’s next on the Burma Army’s hit list.

Which doesn’t augers well for the ongoing peace process.

It is therefore high time President Thein Sein reins in the Army before the peace process he initiated on 17 August 2011 is being derailed by it. 

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Government troops reinforced while SSPP representatives meet U Thein Zaw

While a group of government delegates led by U Thein Zaw and representatives of SSPP/SSA were meeting at the North-eastern Regional Command based in Lashio (Northern Shan State) on 18th October 2014, the Burma Army was sending in troop reinforcements to SSPP/SSA areas.

Local sources say the Burma Army was reinforcing their troops in SSPP/SSA areas while the Vice-Chairman of the Union Peace-making Work Committee U Thein Zaw, Northeastern Regional Military Commander General Aung Soe, Eastern-central commander General Ko Ko Naing and a group led by SSPP/SSA General Secretary Sao Khun Sai were meeting in Lashio on 18th October, 2014.

“They have told us to withdraw our troops from Pan Ze tract, Ke See township. They will tell us the same thing at their meeting in Lashio. They have been reinforcing their troops to give us pressure. If we don’t withdraw our troops, they said they would use force to attack. There were six fully loaded military trucks from Lashio and several military trucks from the Military Operations Commands (MOC, or Sa Ka Kha) 2,” said one of the SSPP/SSA communication officers.

A resident of Tangyan said that, at least five loaded Burma Army military trucks were heading to Loi-lang, Tangyan township.

The Burma Army have told SSPP/SSA to withdraw their troops and bases from the areas of Pan Ze tract in Ke See township, and Nam Si Zeng and Loi-lang areas in Tangyan township, northern Shan State.

Since a union level ceasefire agreement between the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army and the Naypyitaw government was signed in January, 2012, it has happened repeatedly that the Burma Army sent in reinforcements and occupied SSPP/SSA areas while the government and SSPP/SSA delegates were meeting. Since the signing of the ceasefire agreement, there have been hundreds of clashes between the Government and the SSPP/SSA.

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Villagers flee due to firing of over 20 mortar shells in Ke See township

One of the Burma army units stationed in Wan Warp tract, Ke See township fired over 20 mortar shells into a village on October 13th 2014, causing the entire village to flee and seek shelter in a temple nearby. 

Burma Army aircrafts and helicopters have been flying over the Wanhai area from 13 to 14 October. On October 13, at around 11 am one of the Burmese military units patrolling around Wan Warp tract began firing over 20 (60mm) mortar shells from their base in Wan Ta Pharn village into Pan Ze village and the surrounding area. Due to the shelling all the villagers fled to Wan Warp temple to seek refuge.  

“The mortar shells fell into our village, nearby our village, and inside our farms. The Burma Army also threatened us that they would burn down our village if we provided the Shan Army with any kind of help and support. So, all our villagers were so afraid and had to leave our houses. We have no other place to go except Wan Warp temple,” said one of the villagers who is seeking refuge.  

 “They fired randomly, but fortunately nobody was hurt. They fired the mortar shells in order to threaten us and to divert attention because one of their military helicopters was landing at their Nam Put base. While the helicopter was landing three of their fighter aircrafts also flew above the area. So one of the main reasons they fired the mortar shells was to threaten us and another was to divert our attention. It is their military strategy,” said one of the SSPP/SSA commanders in the area. 

The Kholam-based Burma Army's Central Eastern Command told the SSPP/SSA to withdraw and move their troops 3 miles inside from the Ke See-Pan Ze-Loi Ywe-Kholong main road, by telephone via their liaison office in Kholam.

 “They said if we do not withdraw our troops they will take action, which means they might use force to attack us. We have no other choice, but to defend ourselves. Today, 15th October 2014, there was fighting in Pan Ze as well,” said the commander.

The Ke See-Pan Ze-Loi Ywe-Kholong main road is a gravel road built by SSPP/SSA since 1995. 

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Peace process: Breaking the deadlock

One evening more than 30 years ago, when I got back home, I asked my wife what we had for dinner. She said fish and I was happy because one of the meals I have always enjoyed is rice with fish. But then I found out that there was only one fish and not a very big one at that. If I was to have my way, my wife would end up eating her rice with a sprinkle of fish and if we agreed to go half, I would not be eating much either, as a fish head is something that I have never liked.

Fortunately, I had no chance to express my feelings because my wife said, “Would you mind giving me your share of the head and I give you my share of the rest?” And I was surprised, because we had been married for only a few months and I wasn’t sure whether she was joking or just doing me a favor. She explained when I looked at her questioningly, “You see, I have always loved eating fish head. I never care for the rest of them.”

Since then, there has been an unsigned agreement between her and myself. When it comes to fish: She eats the head and I the rest. Had we insisted on the position that we went half, we wouldn’t be having such a happy arrangement.

That was what I thought when one of the researchers  who had attended the 22-26 September negotiations between the rebels’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC).  Both were focusing too much on positions than interests.

The situation is such the President was said to have given a deadline: Finalization of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft by 30 October or he’ll have to consider “Plan B.”

Positions taken include:
  • ·       Demarcation of ceasefire territory (which is a UPWC proposal. “Does it mean we keep on fighting outside it?” asked an NCCT official)
  • ·       Replacing of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) before political settlement instead of after, as agreed earlier by the UPWC. (I have yet to hear the NCCT asking why the UPWC had a sudden change of mind)
  • ·       The UPWC also had another change of mind. Previously it had agreed that the NCA would be ratified by the union legislature. But now it is suggesting “submission of the NCA to the union legislature for ratification” instead, as earlier wording could have been considered too presumptuous by the legislature. Again I have yet to hear how then we can be sure that it will be ratified despite using an unassuming wording.

All in all, I would venture that instead of each side holding to its positions (or rather its chosen wordings) they try to explain what their interests or concerns are. Then they are more likely to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

After all, since both sides have agreed to uphold the government’s long trumpeted Three Causes: Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of national solidarity and Perpetuation of national sovereignty, the rest should be considered, particularly by the government, as a walk in the park and not one on a tightrope.

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Col Aung Thu orderes the SSPP/SSA to withdraw from Salween river

The Shan State Minister of Border Affairs and Security, Col Aung Tu has written a letter to the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (a.k.a Shan State Army-North or SSA-N) to withdraw its troops and camps from west of the Salween river, near areas under the control of the United Wa State Army. 

On October 9th , 2014 a letter signed by the Minister of Border Affairs and Security Col Aung Tu was sent, telling the SSPP/SSA to withdraw its troops and bases from the areas of Kun Parng Kun Kone, Nam Si Zeng and Loi-lang in Murng Kao tract, Tangyan township, northern Shan State, to the west of the Nam Pang river.
“They, the Myanmar army, have accused our troops of trespassing into the area of Loi-lang and Nam Si Zeng. This is a shameless accusation. It was the Burma Army which broke the 1947 Panglong Agreement and claimed that they had come to Shan State to help the Shans drive out the Kuomintang and since then the Burma Army has refused to leave Shan State. Therefore, if they invade we will use every means to defend our territories. This is our mother-land,” said one of the SSPP/SSA commanders at the frontline.
The Burma Army insisted that they had to use force and conduct their recent offensive because the SSPP/SSA had refused to withdraw their troops from the Ta Pha Saung base, into which they had “trespassed.” However, even after the SSPP/SSA had already withdrawn their troops from Ta Pha Saung, the Burma army also attacked other of SSPP/SSA bases, including Nam Put, Kong Mark Hin Tarn, Kong Mike Nyaung, Kong Mak Mong Lao, Kong Sao Merng, from which they had not been asked to withdraw.
“This has the potential to ruin the peace process. We have heard that there could be more fighting in the areas along the west of the Salween River. Whether the nationwide ceasefire agreement is signed or not, it will make no difference. Though we have been trying to deal via the negotiation table, they will continue giving us military pressure like this,”said an unnamed SSPP/SSA central committee officer.  

The Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army signed a ceasefire with Naypyitaw on January 28, 2012 at the union level. 

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