Day Two (22 May 2014)
We didn’t know it then, but while I was on my way to Taunggyi from Tachilek, opposite Maesai, where I had put up last night, the Royal Thai Army had declared a coup d’état.
I remember chatting with a friendly military officer from the Burma Army who said the one thing that is different between the military takeover in the two countries is that in Thailand, it doesn’t affect the day-to-day bureaucratic functions of the government. “The bureaucratic machine in Thailand seems to be better established,” he remarked.
He also talked about the dividends of the ongoing peace process. “In the past, we used to have several checkpoints between Taunggyi and Tachilek (574km) and it would take 2-3 days to travel by car,” he said. “But now it took only two days from even Rangoon to reach Tachilek.”
Nevertheless, he conceded that the transition from absolute dictatorship to a constitutional government was not without problems. “The old system hasn’t gone completely and the new system is still groping its way in,” he commented, “which results in a sort of limbo. Crimes, especially the drug trade, have become somewhat out of hand.”
Naw Kham, the Shan “Godfather” of the Mekong, was apprehended in Laos and sentenced to death in China last year, after the Chinese court found him guilty of killing 13 Chinese sailors on 5 October 2011.
Women’s Peace Forum had just concluded when I arrived in Taunggyi in the evening.
I was received by youth organizers of the constitutional workshop entitled “Local Government and Decentralization”, a joint venture of Euro Burma Office (EBO), Forum of Federations (FOF), Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue (PI) that I have the honor to head and the New Generation Shan State (NGSS).
They informed me that the workshop would be held at the Memorial Hall of St. Joseph’s Church near the No.3 High School, formerly St Anne’s, until the military government “nationalized” it around 1963-64.
The 3-day planned workshop, 25-27 May, would be followed by a selection of trainees for TOT (Training of Trainers) by the Canada-based FOF. The trained youth would then organize constitutional awareness workshops in their own localities.
It has, at least in the short run, nothing to do with the current calls for constitutional amendments or rewrite, I have informed the organizers.
“The problem with our people is that they don’t even know what a constitution is,” I recall a young CBO member telling me several years earlier. “It isn’t unusual to find farmers asking who’s bigger between the President and the Prime Minister.”
I finished the day by visiting my brother-in-law. This time he didn’t have any drinks to offer me, because his daughters had confiscated all the bottles and put them away, after he suffered a minor hemorrhage. Good for him — and me.
The illicit drug market in the Golden Triangle – Burma, Thailand and Laos – and in neighbouring India and China has undergone profound changes. This report documents those changes in great detail, based on information gathered on the ground in difficult circumstances by a group of dedicated local researchers. After a decade of decline, opium cultivation has doubled again and there has also been a rise in the production and consumption of ATS – especially methamphetamines.
Drug control agencies are under constant pressure to apply policies based on the unachievable goal to make the region drug free by 2015.
This report argues for drug policy changes towards a focus on health, development, peace building and human rights. Reforms to decriminalise the most vulnerable people involved could make the region’s drug policies far more sustainable and cost-effective. Such measures should include abandoning disproportionate criminal sanctions, rescheduling mild substances, prioritising access to essential medicines, shifting resources from law enforcement to social services, alternative development and harm reduction, and providing evidence-based voluntary treatment services for those who need them.
The aspiration of a drug free ASEAN in 2015 is not realistic and the policy goals and resources should be redirected towards a harm reduction strategy for managing – instead of eliminating – the illicit drug market in the least harmful way. In view of all the evidence this report presents about the bouncing back of the opium economy and the expanding ATS market, plus all the negative consequences of the repressive drug control approaches applied so far, making any other choice would be irresponsible.
Bouncing Back, Relapse in the Golden Triangle
TNI, De Wittenstraat 25, Amsterdam
While most of the differences that have emerged during the
negotiations between the armed resistance movements’ Nationwide
Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union
Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) are about the wordings, the concepts
behind them are more important, according to Dr Lian Hmung Sakhong, key
NCCT member, who was speaking at the forum held at the Chiangmai
University on Friday, 30 May.
The military representatives of the UPWC continued to oppose the use of “Federal” in the draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), despite the fact that the word has been accepted and used by President Thein Sein and Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann in their speeches. “We finally agree to use ‘democracy that guarantees equal rights and (internal) self determination’ for the peoples of the Union,” he reported.
The two sides had also agreed that the country would be a secular state, which may help to dispel concerns that Naypyitaw would adopt a more rigid pro-Buddhist stance.
The military also agreed, as proposed by the NCCT, to place the Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration (DDR) of all armed movements after the political settlement instead of before it, as insisted by it earlier, according to Dr Lian. (The second combined draft that came out after the latest round of talks between the two sides, 21-23 May, however still contains the original proposition by the government, that is, DDR must come before political settlement.)
“Peace in Burma is important, not only for the people of Burma, but also for the region and the rest of the world,” concluded Lian, “because instability in our country has created a lot of problems for you. Peace in Burma is your concern as well. This is our best chance. Please support our efforts to make peace.”
Other speakers included Nyo Ohn Myint of Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), Harn Yawnghwe of Euro Burma Office (EBO) and Dr Hannes Siebert of Common Space Initiative (CSI). Some 60 participants attended the forum that was jointly organized by the Chiangmai University’s Regional Center for Sustainable Development (RCSD), Burma Studies Center (BSC), Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue (PI) and Thai PBS. They include those from diplomatic and academic circles, UNHCR, INGOs and civil society organizations.
Summing up the latest round of talks between the ethnic armed
movements’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and Naypyitaw’s
Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), during the last weekend, all
sources have urged both sides to put more effort and time to the ongoing
Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) negotiations.
Dr Hannes Siebert, who has been involved in several peace processes in Colombia, Yemen, Nepal and Lebanon, among others, cautions that one should not expect too much from each round of talks. “Most single text documents, in my experience, have not been finalized after a few drafts,” he said.
The NCCT and the UPWC, since last November, have met 8 times. The first combined draft was drawn up at the 7th meeting, 5-8 April, and the second at the 8th, 25-23 May.
Some of the progresses made include:
- The agreement to include the establishment of a Union Armed Forces on the agenda at the upcoming political dialogue phase
- Joint demining
- Protection of civilians
Several disagreements still divide both sides. One ethnic leader told SHAN, “The main obstacle however is still the mindset:
- Some, forgetting that they are negotiators, come to the talks as if they were entering debates
- We are also apt to think that our demands are just, while the other side’s are insincere. Instead we should judge them as human nature. Everyone wants to get the best of a bargain. Negotiators should therefore not be disturbed by it.”
The venue, according to the sources, may possibly be Laiza, the Kachin stronghold on the Sino Burma border, as Thailand, under military rule since 22 May, has banned unusual gatherings of more than 5 people. The tentative date is 10-13 June.
Following many decades of armed conflict between Myanmar's national
military and various ethnic groups, there are now opportunities for
peace. However, an official nationwide ceasefire has been delayed
several times. Many questions persist about the country's peace process.
This forum will evaluate the progress that has been made, and the
opportunities and challenges that remain on Myanmar's road to peace.
Negotiating for the Nationwide ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is like
playing a game of polo while the political dialogue that will follow
later is like a game of soccer, according to Chin National Front (CNF)’s
prominent leader Dr Sui Khar.
Sao Yawdserk, leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) agrees. “Actually, we could have insisted on beginning the political dialogue after 14 armed resistance movements had signed ceasefire,” he said. “But we had gone along with the NCA negotiations, as Naypyitaw’s proposal that the UN and foreign governments would be signatory witnesses seemed to us a good idea.”
Meanwhile, other sources have brushed of common saying, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” by saying with a new president, preferably Aung San Suu Kyi, installed in Naypyitaw by 2016, the non-Burmans can expect a better deal. “A few superpowers are offering several candies to the military in exchange for allowing The Lady to become the next president,” said one. “They seem to be backing two horses at the same time.”
A friendly diplomat has declined to comment on it.
On 23 May, at the conclusion of the latest round of NCA talks between the armed resistance movements’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), the two sides came up with the second draft of the NCA in a Single Text Document form.
A round table discussion on Burma’s peace process is scheduled at 13:30-16:00 at Chiangmai University today. For details, please see Mailbox.
Day One (21 May 2014)
This is the first time I’m a passenger in a bus to Maesai on my way to Hopeland. And it is comfortable and fast — 3 ½ hours to cover some 250 km. Not bad when I usually make it in 3 hours when driving it myself.
I don’t know how good my report will be. I’m out of funds. My principal data collector passed away 3 years ago, though I still have a lot of friends who are willing to tell me everything they know about the business. But I hope to finish it before 26 June: The International Day Against Drug Abuses. And that’s quite a challenge.
The comforting thing is that the media people are still asking SDW whenever they want second opinions. The latest one was on Sunday, 18 May, by the Voice of America (VOA) English program.
I usually did not have any problems about writing and speaking what I saw or knew. That was until President Thein Sein set the wheels of national reconciliation into motion in 2011.
I’m never an advocate of “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” On the contrary, I’m a follower of The Buddha who said only truths which are beneficial must be uttered whether they are pleasing or unpleasing to the audience.
Of course, whether I would be a good follower riding a fine line between — “truth, beneficial, pleasing or unpleasing” — would be quite something else.
But I’ll know it for myself when the report is finished, even if others are not. After all, you have to live with yourself, not others. So I say to myself as I climb down the bus in Maesai where a friend is waiting to pick me up and drive me to the hotel.
Jointly organized by the Brussels-based Euro Burma Office (EBO),
Canada-based Forum of Federations (FOF), Chiangmai-based Pyidaungsu
Institute for Peace and Dialogue (PI) and Taunggyi-based New Generation
Shan State (NGSS), a basic constitution awareness workshop is scheduled
to be held in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, 25-27 May, according
“One of the problems is that our people know very little what a constitution is and why it is important to have one,” said Khuensai Jaiyen, one of the organizers. “Only after they have learned this, can we discuss with them what to do with the 2008 constitution.”
The workshop is expected to be followed up by a Training of Trainers (TOT).
Representatives from Shan State-based political parties, civil society organizations and ethnic armies that have concluded ceasefire agreements have been invited to participate in the event.
Taunggyi is known for its hosting of the inter-state conference on 8-16 June 1961 that called for the amendment of the 1947 constitution from a quasi-federal document into a full-federal one. The movement ended with a coup in 1962.