5+4 to Rangoon peace talks

The ethnic resistance movements’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) has chose 5 delegates to hold talks in Rangoon on Monday, 22 December, according to sources.

The delegation will include 5 out of 14 NCCT members and 4 technical assistance team (TAT).

The 5 delegates are:
Padoh Kwe Htoo Win       Deputy leader, Karen National Union (KNU)
Hkun Okker                        Membeer, Pao National Liberation Organization (PNLO)
Khu Taw Reh                      Member, Karenni National Progressive Party KNPP
U Twan Zaw                       Member, Araken National Council (ANC)
Dr Lian Hmung Sakhong, Member, Chin National Front (CNF)

The NCCT’s two other leaders Nai Hongsa (New Mon State Party) and Maj Gen Gun Maw (Kachin Independence Organization), though both of them had taken part in the 15-16 December preliminary meeting in Chiangmai with the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) officials, will not be part of the delegation.

The meeting, overshadowed by the incident in 19 November that had killed 23 resistance cadets and wounding 20 others near the Kachin stronghold of Laiza, will be focusing less on the ongoing Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) negotiations, according to sources on both sides.

“The government is obligated to do or say something constructive to make up for the Laiza incident,” said a source that had requested anonymity. “It is also obligated to take measures to see that such incidents are not repeated. And because of the incident, security for the NCCT delegation needs to be further ensured.”

As for the NCA drafting process, the NCCT desires to have additional international observers, preferably from the so-called Peace Donor Support Group (PDSG) countries, which included Norway, UK, EU, Japan, Switzerland, UK, US and Australia. Its current observers are the UN and China.

The NCCT is also anxious to find out the government’s response to its earlier suggestions to break the deadlock that had reached in September at the 6th formal meeting between it and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC).

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Thai seminar on Burma in Pitsanulok tomorrow

A two-day seminar on Thai-Burma Studies in Asean Community will be held tomorrow at Pitsanulok, where the Third Regional Army is headquartered, according an invitation by the organizers.

It is being organized by Thammasat University’s Social Sciences and Humanities Textbook Foundation, headed by one of the kingdom’s most respected scholar Dr Charnvit Kasetsiri. The venue will be at the Ekathosarot Building at the University of Naresuan.

One of the panelists for the topic: Problems and the Way Out for Ethnic groups along the Thai-Burmese Border Areas on the seminar’s second day is Khuensai Jaiyen, Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) founder-president and managing director of the 1 year old Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue.

Other speakers include prominent scholars: Dulayapark Preecharach, Somrit Luechai and Moragotwong Phumplab and celebrated social activist Tuenjai Dettes.

“I hope that the seminar will promote better understanding of Burma by its neighbors,” says Khuensai. “The better the understanding is, the smoother and faster the ongoing peace process will be.”

The Third Regional Army was on 13 November assigned by Bangkok to monitor and coordinate the activities of the border-based ethnic armed movements with regards to the peace process launched by President Thein Sein on 17 August 2011.

Other topics include:
18 December 2014
Asean East-West, North-South Economic Corridors
Tourism in Ping-Wang-Yom-Nan and Salween Basins
Ethnic Diversity along the Thai-Burmese Border Areas
Transnational Migrant Labor
Thai-Burmese Trade
19 December
Construction of National Heroes and Heroines in Southeast Asia

The seminar will be conducted in Thai.
For more information, please contact Khun Torm 089 484 6655 and Ajarn Somrit 081 696 6003.

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Opium output down, so are prices

Reports coming from the border say opium prices have been on the downside even as the output has been reduced by adverse weather conditions.

In Mongton (opposite Chiangmai), it is 25,000 baht ($780) down from up to 40,000 baht ($1,250) last year. In Panglong and Namzang, it is 650,000 kyat ($650), down from 700,000-750,000 kyat ($700-750) during the previous year.

“The reason is there are few buyers,” said a source close to a government: established People’s Militia Force (FMF) in Namzang, Loilem district. “The group was notified by the Burma Army that Naypyitaw wants their refining activities suspended for the time being.”

The PMFs, since the Burma Army’s crackdown on the United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s drug operations in 2005, have emerged as main beneficiaries as outside investors began moving their refineries and assets into areas under the PMF control.

However the government began launching operations against the PMFs’ drug activities during the past few months. Areas under the control of big names like Ai long and Ja Ngoi of Punako PMF in Monghsat township and Yishay of Nampong PMF in Tachilek township, both opposite Chiangrai, were raided. “The PMF leaders were informed in advance of the planned raids though,” said a local source. “So there were only token losses.”

All the PMF leaders, well known by Thai drug enforcement, have been left untouched. “The PMFs are now looking for new refinery sites,” he said. “In the meanwhile they don’t want to burden themselves with security over the new harvest.”

According to sources in southern Shan State there have been significant increase in the cultivation. On the contrary, there has been a decrease in the north due to increased fighting between the Burma Army and the Kachin-Shan-Ta’ang-Kokang alliance.

“Farmers don’t dare visit their rice and corn fields, let alone growing poppies,” said a local source. “So there will be many families getting enough food to feed themselves.”

The weather has not been favorable either even for legal crops. “There had been a lot of dry stretches during the rainy season,” said a farmer in Panglong. “And just before the harvest, there came a big downpour  that destroyed a lot of fields including mine.”

Meanwhile the 4 Mekong countries: China, Laos, Burma and Thailand will be establishing a joint center in Chiangmai next month to tackle with the drug trade on the Mekong, reported Bangkok Post on Sunday, 14 December.

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The Peace Process: Knowing what to say instead of “No”

As the two sides prepare to meet today in Chiangmai, the big, big question is: Is there any possibility of reaching agreement — on a date and place for a new formal meeting if not on the issues?

One thing that is crystal clear is that mistrust, which is mutual, has grown over the past 3 months, following the takeover of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), made up of both the 12 party alliance, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), and the non-UNFC ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in early September.

The Army led Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) responded by going back on some of the important terms of the draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) already agreed earlier. Apart from re-asserting that the DDR(Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration) should come before political settlement, it also refused to negotiate other critical issues like Military Code of Conduct (COC) and repositioning of troops during the period the two sides will be negotiating.

Then came the 19 November howitzer shell incident which killed 23 resistance cadets. Which was followed by three straight days, 11-13 December, of fighting in northern Shan State’s Kutkhai township.

What seems strange is that each side seems to believe that the other side does not want the NCA to be finalized and signed soon.

“I believe the UNFC doesn’t want peace,” Burmese defense chief was quoted as saying late last month by sources coming from Naypyitaw.  The UNFC appears to believe the same of the Burmese military. “They (the military) are doing all they can to prevent the political dialogue from taking place,” one of the UNFC leaders told SHAN two days ago. His statement was supported by another prominent UNFC member yesterday.

Meanwhile there are no lack of cooler heads on both sides. “Trust is at the lowest level, “Maj Gen Gun Maw of the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), who is also a leading member of the NCCT, was quoted as saying. “And that is why negotiations are most necessary.”

LT-Gen Myint Soe of the Burma Army is also reported as saying on the recent fighting: War is war but peace talks should continue.

SHAN heartily echoes their statements.

Another thing is also clear if the talks are to continue: Both sides, instead of saying No to each other, should be asking “WHY?” instead (such as “Why did you take over the NCCT?” “Why did you decide to go back on what you have already agreed?”)

By the time the answers have been given by each side, SHAN believes the ice will be melting, if not broken, thereby easing the anxiety of the people in the areas repeatedly scarred by war.

But if each side keeps on refusing to ask “Why?,” it’s time the people packed all their life-long belongings and moved to another country where they may face other indignations but not war.

May cooler heads prevail.

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To Hopeland and Back (X) - Day 4 - 2

Day Four. Friday, 28 November 2014: Censoring the census results

The provisional census data which came out on 30 August had nothing to say about the “135” national races of the country. In fact, Minister U Khin Yi, who is responsible for the March-April census, had clarified the figure was “just for quoting,” according to a seminar participant, who is involved in the monitoring of the official head count.

It was deliberately left out because it entails a lot of controversies, he says, such as:
Some disagree being in the same grouping (For instance, Dawei in Burmese group: If we are in Burmese group, so should Arakanese.)
Some national races find themselves in more than a grouping (For instance, Kebar is in both Karen and Kayah groups)
Some national races are named differently as separate national races (For instance, Shan,  Shan Gyi and Tailong, which are synonymous)
Some sub- families of the same national race may also want to be separately registered (For instance, Zomi from Chin, and Burmese speaking Shan Ni from Shan)
Some are originally from one race but registered as another (“Even U Myint Kying, a census official, admits he is Mon but registered as Burmese”)
Designating people who wish to be known as Rohingya as “Bengali” may be technically in error, as one remarks, because it belongs to people in West Bengal of India, though they may be from the same linguistic group like Shans, Thais and Laos are
 “The current mess is the outcome of the top-down planning without consulting those concerned,” he concludes.

The government has announced that the full report will be released in May 2015. A participant also speaks of the government’s plan to hold a conference to clarify the “135” national races “jumble”. No one seems to be sure whether it will be in May  or before that.

Another participant’s suggestion is that waiting for Naypyitaw to clear the mess will not spell the end of the problem. “We must initiate a pre-emptive conference of our own to make sure what the government does is all in order,” he counsels.

The seminar ends with recommendations from the participants. One is to form an Assembly of Civil Society, as during the 1986-96 Guatemalan peace process, to assist in the consensus building, social cohesion; to offer relevant proposals to both sides; to facilitate dialogues; to monitor the process and assist in protective measures. “For the peace process to reach the point of no return, I believe the participation of the people is a must,” says one.

To mark the event, a dinner party was thrown at the House of Memories, where Gen Aung San used to have his office.

If the reader thinks the journal doesn’t do justice to the seminar, please look out for the full report from TNI which should be coming out soon.

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To Hopeland and Back (X) - Day 4

Day Four. Friday, 28 November 2014: Land in whose hands?

Is there anything more to learn about land issue, apart from the ongoing land grabbing cycles which is happening not only in Burma but worldwide?

I find out today that there is, after one participant briefs the seminar on the Draft National Land Use Policy which was unveiled on 18 October at Inya Lake Hotel.

To be sure, she says (again another she) the new draft guideline, a 12 part 93 pages affair, has its good points, such as recognition of the customary land rights, land tenure and land use practices.

At the same time, it raises a lot of questions and suspicions, because:
Limited time for consultation, October-December 2014. Reports say Naypyitaw is pressed on ratifying it before 2015 dissolution of parliament.
Various land laws starting from 2012 have been criticized for infringing on ethnic nationalities’ land and prioritizing foreign investment.
The draft policy while speaking of compensation, says nothing about restitution. (Compensation, I learn from Yahoo is “like a gift to say sorry” for the wrong that has been done. But restitution is “pay to restore” as something was before being taken away or destroyed. These days, thanks to President Thein Sein and the peace process he started, I’m being forced to learn a lot of things in a hurry.) In contrast, the word “investment” features a dozen times, according to a joint preliminary assessment.
In addition, the land issue will be handled by a centralized body
“This is second only to the 2008 constitution in significance,” she concludes.

Comments and suggestions from participants who have studied the draft includes:
The 2008 constitution was ratified without the people’s consent. We fear this one will be too.
Opposition to 2015 ratification, before sufficient public consultation has been conducted, must be put up jointly by CSOs, political parties and ethnic armed movements. Doing it after the peace process will prove too late.
Earlier on 5 November, at another seminar in Chiangmai, I remember one CSO participant saying: We are like someone who’s asking for a right to have a piece of cake. While we are asking, others are already eating. By the time our request is granted, nothing will be left for us.
British era land regulations and the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, of which Burma was a signatory in 2007, must also  be put to good use to preserve the people’s right to land and livelihood
(To be continued)

For more arguments against the draft land use policy, please visit Mizzima News, 10 December, The draft land use policy: putting big business first by Dr Jennifer Franco.

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To Hopeland and Back (X)

(25 November- 3 December 2014)

Day One. Tuesday, 25 November 2014.
Bus to Mae Sai.

Day Two. Wednessday, 26 November 2014.
By plan to Rangoon.

Day Three. Thursday, 27 November 2014: The Kachin enigma

Naturally, the first topic that is hotly discussed at length at the “Toward Ethnic Peace in Myanmar,” a seminar organized by Transnational Institute (TNI) on Chatham House rule, is the 105 mm howitzer incident near the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) stronghold of Laiza that had killed 23 resistance cadets 8 days earlier.

“This is not only a Kachin issue,”said a participant, “but the whole country’s.”

She is seconded by at least two others. (Even a Myanmar Peace Center official who was visiting Chin State most recently was told by a local: “What are you doing here? Laiza is the place you should be going.”)

The KIA, probably suspecting a Burmese offensive, has refused to retaliate militarily, according to a Kachin participant. But the tensions remain high especially among the populace. “The people spat at us while we were working hand in hand with the government (1994-2011),” he says. “But since June 2011, when the Burma Army broke the ceasefire, their support is such the leadership is in morbid fear of losing it.”

The leadership, he concedes, is not interested in ceasefire agreement, but only in political dialogue. “We want to have both of it in a package, if we are going to sign a peace agreement.”

In a way, it explains why the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) which is being negotiated between the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), of which the KIO/KIA is a leading member, and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), has been taking so long. But as far as the KIO/KIA is concerned, it had already signed the ceasefire agreement in 1994. There isn’t any special need for another one.

However, the stance has its opponents: the political parties. “If it is about ceasefire, it is their (the armed resistance) say,” one politician was reported as saying. “But when it comes to political matters, we would like to know who had given them the mandate to negotiate on our behalf.”

There are other resistance movements who also think the NCA process is merely the government’s ploy to postpone the political dialogue. “We have already signed both state level and union level ceasefire agreements,” complained Lt-Gen Yawdserk, Chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) to U Aung Min, the UPWC’s principal negotiator in October. “I don’t understand why we still have to do another one to get there.”

Meanwhile, the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) has reportedly decided that the KIO/KIA does not want peace. (But, according to the Kachin participant, it is not peace the KIO/KIA is against, but a ceasefire that, according to their 1994-2011 experience, has gotten nowhere.)

Interestingly, the  general international perspective is  that the peace process could have gone on well, were it not for the KIO/KIA, according to another participant. “Therefore, as far as they are concerned, the benchmark has become the 2015 elections,” he says. “What do we do to keep the peace process a benchmark?”

Here are  other discussion points which I consider noteworthy:
Pekhon (aka Faikhun, a township in Shan State) has seen no fighting for a long time. But, contrary to what outsiders think, there is still no peace there.
The Army has been at war with several armed groups since the passing of 1 August deadline for NCA, in Karen and central Shan, not just Kachin and northern Shan.
How much have the ceasefire agreements with 14 armed groups been implemented?
The government had earlier made it a condition that armed resistance leaders who wanted to amend the constitution must first form political parties, get elected and amend it in the parliament. But according to Union Speaker U Shwe Mann, even the present amendment calls by MPs will not be considered until after the 2015 elections
Many political parties, tired of waiting for the NCA, are already embarked on the process of drafting a framework for political dialogue. An example is the draft framework that was published by 56 parties on 26 November
Unlawful Association Act 17-1 (for active members) and 17-2 (for sympathizers) should be abolished. Applying colonialist laws more than 60 years after the British have left can mean only one thing: that the people of Burma are still under colonialist rule.

The seminar’s other topic of the day are Ethnic Political Parties and the Role of Women in the Peace Process. Here are a few highlights:
There are two major political parties: Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and National League for Democracy (NLD). If you are comparing them to football/soccer teams, you’ll find each of the USDP’s major players in his position: President Thein Sein as Center Forward, U Shwe Mann as Midfielder, General Min Aung Hlaing as Center Fullback and U Tin Aye as Goalkeeper. In contrast, on the NLD side, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi alone makes up the team. She is forward, midfielder, full back and goalkeeper at the same time.
As for the ethnic parties, they have no money and few popular leaders. What they have is the spirit. Their common aim is to become state governments. It’ll be an uphill struggle.
If war is likened to fire, women can be to water. A raging fire cannot be doused by fire, only by water. Their soothing presence and voice alone are enough to calm down people. Remember how the strife-torn Philippines became a  peaceable country once again with the ascension of Corazon Aquino as President.

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The long and winding road to peace

One of the questions which never fails to come up when SHAN is on the road is that why the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) negotiators are taking such a long time.

On each occasion, SHAN has done its best to explain what the problems are, also its best not to place the blame wholly on either side. One of the reasons, as said earlier, is our unfamiliarity to the one-text procedure.

Another of course is that, in the minds of negotiators, consciously or unconsciously, negotiation still means one party has to give in while the other emerges as the winner. As one of the characters in a newspaper comic says to another about give and take: It means you give and I take.

The result is as another cartoon reproduced here from one of the dailies.

It may therefore be a bit strange to younger people born in the age of win-win solutions. But if we look back to the days when-and how-most of the present leaders from both camps were brought up, there is nothing bizarre about their attitude.

Historical figures who used to be our role models were no different from many of them. Here are two quotes randomly picked from the internet:

To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace
A fleet of British ships of war are the best negotiators in Europe

You may or may not believe it. But the first one was attributed to George Washington and the second to Horatio Nelson.

Our leaders of course should be forgiven for being out of touch with the changing times, but it doesn’t mean they should be allowed to repeat them.  Because at stake are not just themselves and their hard-won reputations, but peace and future of the in own people.

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