THE CHIPS ARE DOWN: The excluded three EAOs to be left out in the cold

It is a shame that the three excluded Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) are to be left out in the cold, as the Aung San Suu Kyi initiated 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) is about to be kicked off on 31 August, which she insisted should be as all-inclusive as possible.

The disagreement arose from the choice of words between the military and the three excluded EAOs, when the parties met a few weeks ago in Mongla or National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) capital, in Shan State's golden triangle, to iron out the phrase that the military wanted them to publicize and promised.

The military told the three EAOs that they should make their repentance which includes the line saying, “The total, complete desire to abandon and end the principle or way of armed (struggle)”.

But the three were only ready to write down,“The total, complete desire to abandon and end the armed conflict”, rejecting the military demanded abandonment of “the principle and way of armed struggle”.

It should be noted that the exact Burmese words for “Let Net Kaing Larn Zin/Nee Larn” could be translated to the “principle/way of (using) arms or weapons (to achieve a goal)” without attribute emphasizing “armed struggle, armed resistance or armed rebellion”, just to mention a few.

But for a Burmese or those well-versed in the language, it is quite clear that it has a negative connotation, with unmistakably tarred aggressiveness, which could mean more to be outlaws, bandits, insurgents and the likes and not in anyway been seen as a “freedom fighter” or “resistance fighter”, with lionising effect as in the West.

Such being the case, it is understandable that the three EAOs refused to yield to the military's demand, apart from the critical question on why they were asked to lay down arms or make repentance to give up armed struggle to enter the peace process, when all the others were not even asked to do so.

The natural answer from the military side is that the three are on armed engagement terms, while the others are not and thus, the need for laying down their arms or at the least, to repent that their armed struggle is completely wrong. The military also accused Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) of starting the fight first by attacking government positions, last year in February.

The Kokang conflict, in which the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) fought along side with MNDAA, started as head of MNDAA Peng Jiasheng launched an offensive, in a bid to re-establish his authority in Kokang self-administrative zone, from where he was expelled by his competitors from within his own army. The then military government sided with his deputy Bai Xuoqian, Peng’s deputy, who is now the Naypyitaw’s point man there.

Thus from the military point of view, MNDAA is an aggressor, while Peng Jiasheng considered that he is only trying to right the wrong, to regain back its authority, robbed from him, which the military abetted and assisted it with vigour.

And for the three EAOs, as armed struggle is part of the resistance against political injustice and grievances, and to admit that their struggle is wrong, coupled with repentance would never come to their mind, much less accepting it.

Still a question arises, as to if this demand is the directive stemming from Aung San Suu Kyi, for it doesn't make sense for her to initiate all-inclusiveness without conditions, particularly where the participation of EAOs is concerned, and let her peace negotiators demand repentance first to become participants in the 21CPC or peace process.

In the BBC recent report, Deputy Director General of the President's Office Zaw Htay when asked whether if this handling of the three EAOs is Suu Kyi's desire, replied: “Under National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) there is Peace Commission (PC) and under State Counsellor's control, there is Preparatory Committee for 21CPC, which is made up of the government, military and parliament.”

He pointed out: “When the Preparatory Committee tabled policy matters, the State Counsellor has to make decision. Here the high ranking military officers are also included, where their policies and the State Counsellors' desired policies are adjusted. This policy decision is what State Counsellor has agreed upon is also the opinion of the military and the parliament.”

Zaw Htay further stressed and reasoned the side-lining of the three EAOs as: “Our words (position) said that those who are appropriate and ought-to-participate (could take part in the peace process).”

But this actually negate the posture of joint-ownership of the process that Suu Kyi and her government have been keen to promote. For the government should not be barking out orders and making decisions on who should participate and who not, as an ethnic representation has to be decided by the individual ethnic group that is directly concerned.

Still, in order not to look so rigid or uncompromising from the part of the government and military regarding the disagreement over the choice of words, Zaw Htay said: “While (we) wait for the result of this negotiation until the convention (starts), the door will be kept open (for the future).”

As it is, the 21CPC will not be all-inclusive participation and the war in Kachin and Shan States would go on, if the ongoing and recent heightened Tatmadaw's offensives could be taken an indication of its continued confrontation policy, parallel with the convention that would be held every six months.

No doubt the pressure of big neighbouring country across the border for all-inclusiveness and comprehensive peace negotiation, coupled with the United Nations and international push and endorsement, would have made an impact on how the military should behave. But despite its meeting with the three EAOs twice recently in Mongla to show the public that it is also for all-inclusiveness, its resistance to stand down from its military supremacy stance, laced with Bamar ethnocentrism, could not be underestimated. We have seen on what it could do to make Suu Kyi's all-inclusiveness policy looks like and so long as it refuses to obey orders from the civilian government, or keen to manipulate the government decision-making power, all would have to wait quite a while for a long-lasting solution and political settlement that encompass all the ethnic peoples of Burma, Bamar included.

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Burma Peace: Let the truth be told!

The UNFC has announced that it will attend the upcoming Burma peace conference. I have previously presented reasons for boycotting the conference, but there is a good argument for going as well. If the ethnic armed organizations are bold, they can use their attendance to further their objectives, meaning for real peace, democracy and federalism.

The rationale for the boycott position is as follows. It is worth restating, since without changes by the Burma Army, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the country will never be at peace.

The conflict is still ongoing - specifically, the Burma Army has launched offensives in both Kachin and Northern Shan States. It is difficult to understand why there would even be a peace conference now, when one side is so dedicated to war. For example, peace talks are presently underway for the Philippines, following the announcement last week of an on the ground ceasefire by both sides. Also, a peace agreement has just been signed in Columbia, again after the first step of halting fighting on the ground. Until Burma's military dictatorship follows the lead of these two countries, and becomes a sincere and willing partner, there is plainly no hope of peace.

Secondly, the peace process negotiation is biased, remarkably, in favor of the dictatorship. Suu Kyi, who should be an independent arbiter, has sided with the generals. Indeed, one of her key spokespersons on the issue of peace, Khin Zaw Oo, is a Burma Army general and, according to a 2014 Harvard Law School study, an indictable war criminal. Irrawaddy quoted him last week, saying: "The Burma Army and the government share the same view."

Thirdly, the dictatorship still has not budged on the issue of inclusion, meaning the TNLA, MNDAA and AA will not be able to attend (despite their publicized willingness to do so.) Suu Kyi backs the dictatorship and accepts their exclusion. Again, a peace process that excludes important parties to the conflict cannot succeed.

Finally, the peace conference has no overt objective. The participants will share their views, but there will be no serious negotiations or target outcome (such as declaring a true nationwide on the ground ceasefire), and the entire exercise will be held again in six months.

Why, then, has the UNFC decided to go? The answer, to me at least, is simple. There is, both in Burma and internationally, a blackout on the country's civil conflict. Even though there is an actual air war, with Burma Army jets and helicopters repeatedly attacking EAO positions and ethnic nationality villages, this gets almost no attention. Even in Burma itself, there are no combat journalists, who stay at the front lines and report on the crisis firsthand. Instead, the war is only covered by local media outlets when the EAOs themselves publish information about the latest battles.

This all links back to Suu Kyi. She refuses to even acknowledge the fighting, certainly in specific terms, since were she to do so she would be forced to criticize its instigator, the military dictatorship. Diplomats and the media in turn follow her lead, meaning that the Burma Civil War, which is a major conflict, outside of the Middle East possibly the largest war now in progress, gets no recognition or coverage.

The peace conference therefore is a chance for the EAOs to explain what is really happening. Suu Kyi doesn't want to have a formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (like in South Africa). Fine. The ethnic nationalities can use this meeting to get the truth out.

Many EAO representatives will speak, and I would suggest that they all dispense with self-censorship and diplomatic niceties. They should openly, and using concrete examples, describe the regimes's decades of tyranny, and its current actions at the front lines. While the format might not permit them to introduce individual victims as witnesses, such as people who have had family members slaughtered or who have been raped, they should nonetheless document, one speaker after another, the regime's invasion of their homelands and its crimes against humanity. It is time for the truth in Burma to be told! Suu Kyi's demand for censorship must be rejected!

This is a good reason to attend. Let's clear up the manufactured confusion - that the Burma Army and the EAOs are somehow "equivalent" - once and for all. The criminal dictatorship aggressor needs to be publicly outed and shamed, and then pressured to end its hostility and atrocities. This is the only way the country will ever know peace.

Burma Peace: Let the truth be told!

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Commentary on think piece “Peace and Reconciliation Call For New Ways of Looking Back”

An insightful piece in pointing out the failure of Bamar initiated nation-building process and forging of a national identity "Myanmar" that hasn't taken roots, after all these years.

The simple reason is the common identity "Myanmar" is the creation of Bamar military leadership, during  State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) era, in late eighties, without the consent or endorsement of the non-Bamar ethnic groups.

The more important fact to the rejection of the Bamar notion, labeled "Myanmar", is the lack of equitable power and resources sharing, apart from opinion that Myanmar, Bamar, Burman, Burmese tags are all identified with the dominant, ruling Bamar clique.

Forging a common national identity first needs to have a feeling that all belong to an agreed label chosen voluntarily by all, including equitable power and resources sharing; not a colonial-like relationship between the Bamar and the non-Bamar ethnic groups that is the order of the day.

Thus the Bamar monopolizing history writing to just glorify its past that stretches until today, with the non-Bamar ethnic groups or nations seen as just its colonial possession and subordinate, won't do much for the non-existence national reconciliation deliberation.

If anyone would like to argue that it is not the case, he or she would only need to go and have a look at the three Bamar kings statues towering over in Naypyitaw's military parade ground.

The only complaint to Sai Latt's otherwise excellent think piece is his continuous using of minorities label for non-Bamar ethnic groups. At least, the Shan, Arakan and Mon were nations in their own right that at various times in history had ruled ancient Burma and had been stark competitors of the Bamar kings, sometimes wining and sometimes losing in their quest for political domination.

Other than that, the 1948 Union of Burma was made up of voluntary participation of the ethnic groups and thus, the non-Bamar ethnic groups are neither minorities, majorities or subordinate in relation to the Bamar.

True, Shans living in Burma Proper, Rangoon area would be minority, while Bamars living in Shan State will also be a minority.

Just because the Bamar are numerically more don't make the non-Bamars become minorities, for as stated earlier they joined the union in 1948 as equal partners and not as a subordinated minorities.

Sadly, scholars have overlooked this majority-minority misnomer, in relation to the ethnic nations residing in what we now called Burma/Myanmar.

To read “Peace and Reconciliation Call For New Ways of Looking Back”, please go to

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Realization of comprehensive Panglong Convention needs Tatmadaw's open-minded endorsement

Quite a lot of activities by influential actors, prior to the start of 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), have been taking place to empower and energize the gathering to be successful, although the military faction within the government might be having a second thought to the all-inclusiveness approach of the de facto country's leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

While not directly involved in 21CPC, the naming of former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan to head the  newly formed Arakan State Advisory Commission of fact-finding and suggestions to the “Rohingya” issue could be seen as a well-timed move to show the government's change of approach, from the consideration policy of purely domestic to international concern, complimenting its peace process as a whole.

Furthermore, the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to attend the opening of 21CPC; the Chinese diplomat who had enthusiastically participated in Mai Ja Yang ethnic leadership meeting, openly urging the UWSA and Mongla or NDAA to attend the Panglong Convention recently; the excluded three Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) – Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Palaung or Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), that the military (Tatmadaw) is keen to sideline, joint statement that they would attend the said meeting if invited; coupled with head of the MNDAA Peng Jaisheng's public statement and endorsement on 15 August, enthusiastically hinting to participate; and of course, the pending and unclear undertaking of the military in relation to this unresolved issue, on whether the 3 EAOs would be allowed to participate; all should be viewed within the context of 21CPC.

In addition, Roland Kobia, the European Union’s  ambassador to Burma, told journalists in Mandalay on 23 August that dialogue is an  important element of sustainable peace in the country.

“The EU’s concern is to at least give a chance to dialogue. If they [the ethnic groups] are  invited to discuss at the table, and when they are around the table, they can agree and  disagree, and at least, they will have a chance to dialogue,” said the ambassador, according to a recent report of The Irrawaddy.

“If Myanmar wants to have a democratic system, it needs to end the conflicts. Democracy is  incompatible with war. To make this happen, all‐inclusiveness is important,” Kobia correctly stressed.

Apart from such a host of conflicting interest and intense lobbying by various interest groups, the some 70 unelected political parties, which were given a five person representative quota, were furious for such small participation count and resolved to boycott the gathering.

According to Saw Than Myint, Chairman of the Federal Union Party, an alliance of sixteen ethnic political party, told Radio Free Asia, on 23 August, that after the meeting was held at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Yangon by some 30 political parties.

They reportedly resolved to boycott the 21CPC, due to the small quota representation of five, for some 70 political parties that failed to get elected in last November nationwide elections. Apart from that, putting them into the category of appropriate persons ought-to-attend belittled their standing of being political parties and could not be accepted. Accordingly, a statement on their rejection and boycott by the 30 political parties was said to be eventually issued.

Also at this writing, it seems that out of the twenty-one EAOs, seventeen are almost sure to attend, according to Salai Lian Hmung of Chin National Front (CNF), when briefing the journalists at the end of the meeting between Suu Kyi and the signatory eight EAOs, on 24 August.

On 25 August, according to a statement released by the United nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) at the conclusion of a two-day “emergency meeting” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, it is committed to attend the 21CPC.

Parallel to this worry that the gathering would not be all-inclusive, the ongoing fighting in resources rich Kachin State, Hpakant area and Tatmadaw's offensives on KIA positions, including recent heavy artillery fires around the vicinity of it's headquarters, also could derail the peace process looms quite large. All these don't bode well for the forthcoming national reconciliation gathering to be successful.

And perhaps to make a last minute plea to all warring parties, EAOs and as well the Tatmadaw, Suu Kyi when meeting the signatory eight EAOs on 24 August urged them that to seriously consider  because it would not be known, for how long the country would have to wait (for peace) further and to what extend it could be hurt, if the peace convention is not successful.

She stressed: “A country's history is very lengthly. If an opportunity is missed, our times and abilities invested in the peace process would have been wasted.”

She added that all should ask critical question on why we failed to build a lasting peace and which side has failed to bring about peace to the country, emphasizing that if both sides apply fair thinking to these questions, trust can be established.

While her plea would be heeded or not remains unclear, especially by the Tatmadaw faction of her government - that is to let the three EAOs participate and stop the offensives in Kachin State, the convention is just going to be an “opening” and not yet a “substantive negotiation process” that would bring about the conflict resolution. Because the framework for political dialogue still need to be worked out, including the EAOs' preferred tripartite position against the military's inclined seven parties participation stance.

The ethnic nationalities uphold the decades-long United Nations endorsed tripartite dialogue which includes, the government-parliament-military,  the EAOs and all the registered political parties, while the military would like to hold on to the seven party arrangement, as was agreed in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), signed late last year with the eight EAOs, out of twenty-one.

Regarding the immediate, short term issue of all-inclusiveness, on the part of the military, it is actually not hard to bridge, as it is just a matter of some wordings that needs to be ironed out, according to Mongla's spokesman Kyi Myint.

Talking on the sideline, on the eve of China’s Special Envoy on Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang visit to woo United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA),on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, to take part in the 21CPC, scheduled to begin on August 31, Kyi Myint downplayed the significance of the Burma Army’s demand, which does not entail actual, immediate disarmament but a commitment to do so at an unspecified point in the future: the current dispute between the Burma Army and the three armed groups is “a disagreement over words,” and could readily be solved through “negotiation,” according to The Irrawaddy recent report.

Reportedly, Sun Guoxiang, who attended the ethnic armed groups in the Kachin State border town of Mai Ja Yang in July, was able to secure the agreement of two armed groups to participate in the 21CPC.

Given such situation, even if the military faction reluctantly gives in to the all inclusiveness political position of Suu Kyi, a host of questions on core issues still remains to be resolved. But all would boil down to the fact if national equality, ethnic rights of self determination and democratization could be worked out satisfactorily among all the ethnic groups, Bamar included, as this would determine whether or not the lasting peace and political settlement could be achieved.

But first thing first and let us just hope that the forthcoming 21CPC will be all-inclusive,  comprehensive enough and that the Tatmadaw would cooperate and not place any barrier to the planned gathering.

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Salween River is not for sale, says Shan NGOs

Shan civic groups held a press conference in Bangkok today, claiming that the Burmese government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is working secretly in support of dam construction on the Salween River, despite knowing that the mega-project will greatly affect many people.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in the Thai capital, Sai Khur Hseng of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization and spokesperson for this morning’s joint-statement, said that the new Burmese government has tried to implement the hydropower projects without caring about the suffering of ordinary people. 

“While all eyes were on the Irrawaddy- Myitsone dam, Burma has quietly sold off the Salween to China,” said Sai Khur Hseng. “We fear there has been a trade-off.” 

“Amidst the war, Australia’s Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) has been carrying out an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Naung Pha Dam in secrecy, clearly to avoid the widespread grassroots protests that blocked its ESIA last year for another Chinese-backed dam on the Salween – the giant Mong Ton Dam in southern Shan State,” said the statement.

The civic groups said that on August 5, more than 200 residents Tangyan Township – an area in line to be flooded by dam construction – staged a protest.  Also, on August 21, about 60 community leaders from Ho Pang, Kunlong, Tangyan, Hsenwi and Lashio, including local Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) MPs, held a demonstration against the plans in Hsenwi Township. 

Representing environmental organization International Rivers, Pianporn Deetes said that the Thai government has been attempting to foster good relations with Naypyidaw, and had also done so with the previous Burmese administration, led by President Thein Sein, in a bid to push forward its agenda of building dams on the Salween River. 

The 3,000-kilometre Salween River, officially known in Burmese as the Thanlwin, is listed as the 25th longest waterway in the world, beginning in the Tibetan plateau, passing through southern China, Burma and the Thai border, before draining in the Andaman Sea.
“The Thai government is seeking to build at least three dams on the Salween River, including the Hatgyi Dam and Mong Ton Dam,” she said. “If the dams are built, there will be flooding in central Shan State.” 

She continued: “About a million Shan people had to migrate to Thailand due to forced relocation by the Burma army in the past 20 years. These people have to become migrant workers who work in construction sites. If the dams are built, they cannot return home because their houses will be under water. Therefore, they have to live in Thailand permanently.” 

Thai environmental activist Pianporn Deetes urged the hydropower investors, as well as both the Thai and Burmese governments, to deeply consider the local people’s needs when the dams are built.
“There will huge impact on the environment,” she added. “But, more importantly, there will be a huge impact on the Shan community as well as human rights abuses.” 

Tuesday’s joint-statement read: “Apart from concerns that the dam will cause increased fighting and displacement, villagers are fearful of dam breakage in this earthquake and flood-prone area.
“Ho Pang, the main Wa township to be impacted by the Naung Pha Dam, has suffered flooding and several earthquakes in the last few weeks. Ho Pang lies on the Nam Ting fault line.” 

Nang Charm Tong, a Shan activist and spokesperson for today’s event, said “As they [the Burmese government] have announced that there will be no gain in terms of electricity, they should not build dams on the Salween.”

She added: “We strongly oppose this activity.”

On August 18, Shan Herald reported that 26 Shan-based organizations had sent an open letter to Burma’s State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, during her visit to China. The groups had demanded that the Burmese government immediately stop all the hydropower projects on the Salween River.

The blueprints for a hydropower project on the Salween include a series of dams in Shan State: the 7,100 megawatt Mong Ton Dam; the 1,400 MW Kunlong Dam; the 1,200 MW Nong Pha Dam; and the 200 MW Manntaung Dam. The project would also include plans for a 4,000 MW Ywathit Dam in Karenni State, and the 1,360 MW Hat Gyi Dam in Karen State. Investors in the projects include the China Three Gorges Corporation, a Chinese state-owned firm which operates the world’s largest dam on the Yangtze River. The other foreign firms involved in the Salween project are: Sinohydro; China Southern Grid; and a subsidiary of the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.
Local partners are the Burmese Ministry of Electric Power and the International Group of Entrepreneurs (IGE), a firm controlled by the offspring of the late Aung Thaung, the long-time industry minister under Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s military regime.
According to the related contracts, when the projects are completed, 90 percent of the electricity generated is to be exported to China and Thailand.

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Aung San Suu Kyi's China visit generates optimism with mixed results

As Aung San Suu Kyi's first visit, outside of the ASEAN countries, her call on China is an important undertaking in shaping, reiterating and confirming Burma's – also known as Myanmar - neutral stance, while reflecting and weighing the pro and contra of a pending and some gearing-up, future economic projects together with China and at the same time, soliciting China's help in resolving the ethnic armed conflict along the two countries' border.

One common understanding coming out of  this is the Chinese and as well Suu Kyi are of the same opinion, that absence of armed conflict and peaceful atmosphere are needed, if economic development benefiting both countries is to be achieved.

And thus, no wonder, Suu Kyi's visit although a first courtesy call as a State Counsellor – in fact the de facto leader of the National League for Democracy government – is more focused or inclined to find ways on how to iron out out a more acceptable workable condition, where bilateral economic projects are concerned and how the Chinese could be helpful in ending the armed ethnic conflict along the two countries' common border.

Let us take a close look on if Suu Kyi and the Chinese were able to advance their mutual benefit on all the scores mentioned.

Joint Statement

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, paid an official visit to China from 17th to 21st August. During the visit, she met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang  to promote bilateral relations and friendship. She also met with Zhang Dejiang of Chairman of Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. During her visit to China, the Joint Press Release between Myanmar and China was issued as follows:

·         The two sides would carry forward their traditional friendship and advancing their comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership in the new era; 
·         Affirmed that they would continue to uphold good neighbourly policy toward each other, the interests of the two peoples, adopt a strategic and long-term perspective, and work to achieve new progress in their comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership;
·         Agreed to promote rule of law in the border areas, and to enhance trade, economic cooperation and various forms of friendly exchanges that would contribute to the well-being of the peoples, agreed to maintain close coordination on global issues such as climate change, natural disasters and communicable diseases;
·         Myanmar welcomed China’s “Belt and Road” initiative and the initiative of Bangladesh-China-India- Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor and thanked China for its active and constructive support to Myanmar’s efforts for national reconciliation and peace process; and
·         State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi conveyed the cordial invitation of President U Htin Kyaw to Chinese President Xi Jinping to pay a state visit to Myanmar. (Source: The Global New Light of Myanmar – 20 August 2016)

Myitsone and Salween Dams

While the controversial Myitsone Dam issue was not mentioned and touched, at least in the joint-statement between China and Burma's State Counsellor, the intense lobbying piece started to appear in China's newspaper Global Times, considered to be the mouthpiece of the government.

The piece titled “Suu Kyi visit raises dam project hopes”, written by Yu Ning, arguing, “The Myitsone project will boost local economic and social development and contribute to addressing the power shortage that has plagued 70 percent of Myanmar's cities, towns and villages.”

She added, “Based on the current agreement, Myanmar will get 10 percent of the electricity produced for free and the dam will become the sole property of Myanmar decades later. As about 60.7 percent of the return on investment will go to Myanmar, it's estimated that Myanmar would receive roughly $17 billion from the  project over the contracted 50-year period. This revenue, if properly used, will inject new impetus to vitalize the backward economy of northern Myanmar.”

Meanwhile, connected to this controversial Myitsone Dam, back at home, the anti-Salween Dam movement is also gaining momentum. People have been correctly asking as to, while the controversial Myitsone Dam has been taken seriously, forming commission to study the project, due to the outcry of public anti-dam stance,  why has the NLD regime given a go ahead construction, where the damming of Salween river is concerned?

Last Wednesday, on 17 August, twenty-six Shan-based organizations sent an open letter to  State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, calling on her government to put an immediate halt to hydroelectric dam projects on the Salween River.

The blueprints for a hydropower project on the Salween include a series of dams in Shan State: the 7,100 megawatt Mong Ton Dam; the 1,400 MW Kunlong Dam; the 1,200 MW Nong Pha Dam; and the 200 MW Manntaung Dam. The project would also include plans for a 4,000 MW Ywathit Dam in Karenni State, and the 1,360 MW Hat Gyi Dam in Karen State. Investors in the projects include the China Three Gorges Corporation, a Chinese state-owned firm which operates the world’s largest dam on the Yangtze River. The other foreign firms involved in the Salween project are: Sinohydro; China Southern Grid; and a subsidiary of the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

On August 12, the Burmese government, which is led by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, announced that the hydropower projects on the Salween River will be continued as the country is in need of energy.

The letter pointed out: “The unilateral decision to go ahead with the Salween dams before political dialogue about federalism has even begun, is depriving ethnic communities of their right to decide about natural resources in their areas, and indicates a lack of sincerity towards the peace process. Coming only weeks before the planned “21st Century Panglong Conference,” this green light to the Salween dams is highly worrying.”

It stressed: “ That the Salween river basin has been a conflict area for decades, where the Burma Army has been relentlessly expanding and committing systematic atrocities against villagers in its attempts to control ethnic lands and resources. Pushing ahead with these unpopular dams will inevitably lead to more Burma Army militarization, increased conflict, and ongoing atrocities.”

According to the related contracts, when the projects are completed, 90 percent of the electricity generated is to be exported to China and Thailand.

Environmentalist Sai Khur Hseng said that the planned dam projects are in active earthquake areas.

“Yesterday, there was an earthquake on the Nam Ting river [near the site of Kun Long Dam],” he said. “If this dam is built, the people who live along the river in Tanyan Township will be heavily impacted,” according to the recent report of SHAN.


Chinese involvement in Burma's peace process has been there since the beginning of the previous President Thein Sein's initiatives to end the ethnic conflict in 2011. But it is a welcome, additional move to have a formal endorsement with the promise to help peace prevail along the two countries' border and beyond.

According to Poe Than Gyaung, spokesman for the Communist Party of Burma, in his Radio Free Asia interview on 20 August, when asked about how much China could do to help with the peace process, replied that the solution would depend on the stakeholders within the country and whether the military wanted to stop fighting and have a desire to achieve peace. The Chinese could only do so much to persuade the parties involved to opt for peace, he stressed.

Closely connected to this is the all-inclusiveness problematic which the military is not reasonably cooperating  by side-lining the three Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) that it dislike for several reasons, even though Suu Kyi is keen to have it as all-inclusive as possible, regardless of whether the EAOs have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement or not.

Thus it could be said even if the Chinese could nudge the EAOs that it has influence to join the peace process, the military's stubbornness to exclude some of the EAOs could derail or create problems for the whole peace process and China won't be able to do much on this score.

Regarding the Myitsone Dam, it seems that Suu Kyi has been able to buy time until the Dam Commission files it's finding on 11 November and presumes that the Chinese would be acceptable to the suggestion made by the it.

All in all, the result of Suu Kyi's China visit could be said as having mixed results, as one billion Chinese Yuan (about 151 million dollars) to support Burma's growth and development has been given; an agreement to survey the feasibility study to construct Kunlong bridge; and promises to constructively cooperate in Burma's quest to achieve peace; while other economic bilateral projects that China is keen to undertake are still left unaddressed, at least publicly.

For now, optimism aside, China seems to be happy with its “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” approach and Suu Kyi is satisfied with her more “balanced relationship” undertaking vis a vis China, and what is going to come out of this in concrete terms is anybody's guess.

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Kokang leader throws weight behind Panglong Conference

The exiled leader of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Peng Jiasheng, released a statement last Monday, saying that the Kokang militia supported the new round of peace talks that are due to begin next week, negotiations which have been dubbed the “21st Century Panglong Conference.”

“It’s time to change from an out-of-date country to a developed country,” said the August 15 statement.

Peng Jiasheng, who is now 85 years old and lives in China’s Yunnan Province, stands accused by Burma’s military of igniting the conflict between Kokang rebels and government forces in February last year. The MNDAA, alongside its allies the Arakan Army (AA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), were refused seats at the peace talks table until now as they maintained hostilities against Burmese forces in the remote northeastern region of Shan State.

Burma’s military previously said the three ethnic armed groups would be excluded from any ceasefire initiatives until they had disarmed.

However, the new government in Naypyidaw, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, has shown a willingness to include all armed groups – whether they be signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement or not – in this new round of negotiations, which are due to begin in the capital on August 31.
According to political analyst Than Soe Naing, the MNDAA leader has changed his tune due to encouragement from Beijing. 

Last week, China’s President Xi Jingping hosted Burma’s State Counselor Suu Kyi, after which the United Wa State Army (UWSA) made a decision to attend the Panglong Conference. 

Than Soe Naing said he believes that if Suu Kyi’s government invites the MNDAA, AA and TNLA, they would “most definitely” join the conference. 

However, Khin Zaw Oo, the secretary of the Peace Commission, who also joined the official trip to China, stated that the MNDAA, TNLA and AA must first release a public statement saying they will disarm, before they can join the peace talks. 

On August 9, representatives of the three militias met for talks with a government peace delegation from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center on the issue of participation in the peace process.
The meeting was held in Mongla, the headquarters of the National Democratic Alliance Army, on the Sino-Burmese border. After the meeting, the secretary of the TNLA announced that their participation would depend on Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The so-called 21st Century Panglong Conference is slated to begin next Wednesday in the Burmese capital, where some 700 delegates from the military, government, parliament, political parties and ethnic groups will sit around a table to discuss the nature of future peace talks.

Hosted by Aung San Suu Kyi, this round of negotiations is being named after the 1947 Panglong Conference, when Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, sat for talks with representatives of the Chin, Kachin and Shan minority groups as the country prepared for independence from Britain.

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