Parliament peace chief visits Mongla

U Thein Zaw, the parliament’s pointman for the ongoing peace process met and talked with Wa and Mongla leaders on Wednesday, 23 October, according to sources from the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) that is based in Mongla, where China, Burma and Laos meet.

“He had 3 propositions:
One, for the Wa and Mongla to lead the way by example by signing the NCA
To accept the Commander-in-Chief’s 6 point principle for peace (genuine desire for peace, keeping the promises made in the agreements, not to exploit on the agreements made, not to be a burden to the local populace, to strictly abide by existing laws and to accept the Three National Causes and abide by the 2008 constitution)
To open up Mongla for tourism and trade

Mongla’s leader Sai Leun and Wa deputy leader Xiao Minliang were seen at the meeting.

U Thein Zaw left Mongla yesterday at 8:30.

He is one of the three vice chairmen of the Union Peacemaking Work Committal (UPWC) established by Naypyitaw in 2012. Two others are U Aung Min, President’s Office Minister, and Deputy Senior General Soe Win.

This was the second visit U Thein Zaw made to Shan State in a week. The first was on 18 October with Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) leaders in Lashio.

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GAB: The power behind the throne

How much is the military going up to allow the country to become a “democracy” (and a federal union)?
Not much, according to the latest research study published by the Asia Foundation this month, Administering the State in Myanmar: An overview of the General Administration Department, a sequel to  its last year’s State and Region Governments in Myanmar.

Going through the 59 page report, it appears the military is now “a game without the name” instead of its former status of “a game with the name.” Instead of overtly running the country, the military has only gone behind the scenes.

The GAD is an integral part of the home ministry, itself one of the 3 “military ministries” where the President has little or no say. It “supports the coordination and communication in the Government’s 36 ministries and also connects the capital, Naypyitaw, to approximately 16,700 wards and village tracts” (under which are 63, 968 villages) within the union. It “plays wide range of roles-ranging from tax collection, to land management, and assorted registration and certification processes.”

At the state and region level, “the GAD provides basic administrative and coordination functions for the region/state government, the region/state hluttaw (legiclature), as well as Union ministries and state/region departments. The senior GAD administrator for each state and region is the executive secretary of the state/region government (Deputy Director General level), and currently supervises 283 GAD employees staffing a General Administrator Office, a state/region Government Office, and a state/region Hluttaw Office.”

One consequence is that “there are no independent state/region ministries to carry out the functions assigned to the states and regions under Schedule II of the 2008 Constitution. Instead, there is a combination of departments with mixed accountability relationships with both Union and state/region governments on the one hand, and state/region units of centralized Union ministries on the other. The executive and legislative structures of a state/region government continue to rely on the key building block of the country’s pre-existing governance structure: the GAD.”

Clearly, the states and regions are not happy about this and have been pushing for amendment of the 2008 constitution. According to the reports coming from Naypyitaw, the debates on the amendments will begin next month.

So let’s hope that the post 2010-military is a new breed and thinks the way we do: that the best government is the least government and let the states and regions decide for themselves how they should administer themselves. The outcome of the amendment will then be a welcome boost to a lasting peace in our land.

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War on Drugs: Should Burma be decertified?

Less than a month from now, Air Force One will be landing in Naypyitaw, carrying the leader of the world’s still most powerful country. One of the prepared reports from his host country is expected to be the government’s present drive against drug production and trafficking.

This is important, because continued decertification in March 2015 mean continued American opposition to loans from multilateral development banks.  Of course, the penalty can still be waived on “national security” grounds, although it is hard to say if Washington will consider Burma’s  strictly neutral foreign policy stance from a positive or negative viewpoint.

During the last two months, Punako and Nampong, two of the most notorious People’s Militia Force (PMF) strongholds have been raided. A consignment of more than 600 blocks of heroin was also seized in Monghsat. In all the three cases, some little known suspects have been detained but all prominent chiefs of the said PMFs (set up by the Burma Army) have been left untouched.

As reported in Bouncing Back: Relapse in the Golden Triangle by Transnational Institute (TNI) last June, quoting Jean-Luc Lemahieu, former representative of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) “there are no angels in this part of the world, but there are no full devils either”.

The report nevertheless points out several design flaws in the government’s 15 (now 20) year master plan to eradicate drugs which was adopted in 1999. “Government officials say that this target (2014) was fixed without much consultation, and are at a loss how to implement it,” it says. “It will never work,” a senior military officer commented, “but carry it out anyway.” As predicted by him, the plan fell far short of achieving its goal and was retargeted to 2019. To date, it is not quite clear either how the government is planning to go about the next 5 years.

One of the problems is the strategy of the military that has created the PMFs to counter the rebels. The Ta Moe Nye PMF in northern Shan State is a case in point:

The Ta Moe Nye Militia in Kutkai Township was formed in the 1960s and supported the government in fighting the CPB (Communist Party of Burma). Its leaders established a close working relationship with the subsequent SPDC chairman Senior General Than Shwe when he was serving as a Tatmadaw officer in northern Shan State, supplying guides and large numbers of mules and horses of army operations. “We never paid them for it, but there was an understanding that they would get something in return”, says a retired army officer who was on active duty in the region at the time. “These militias were involved in opium and heroin production and they sent convoys to Lashio. We let them through, and we knew they were transporting drugs.”

The PMFs, it explains, “are intended to act as buffer between the Tatmadaw and armed ethnic opposition groups, and to deny the latter access to territory, resources and population. Militias are directly under Tatmadaw control and are allowed to do business and to tax the local population and trade passing through their checkpoints. Many of them have become heavily involved in the drug trade, especially in recent years.”

Successive military government’s focus, it concludes, is on managing the problem as opposed to attempting to resolve it.

The results are not surprising:
·       Kokang (in 2002) and Wa (in 2005) successfully banned opium production “mainly because of pressure from the Chinese,” according to a representative of Mongla group. Following the bans, opium cultivationand outside investmentrelocated mainly to southern Shan State
·       Crop substitution programs, which involved land grabbing for agricultural investment especially by Chinese companies, further marginalized the poppy growing communities who were forced to depend all the more on poppy cultivation in order to survive
·       Continuing conflict has also created ‘vacuums’ where foreign financiers have taken advantage of. “It is difficult to get rid of the drug trade, because of the strong financial support from (outside sources),” according to a former member of a ceasefire group
·       The involvement of Tatmadaw units and commanders in the drug trade has also been documented

One problem that needs immediate resolution, the report says, is the participation of civil society in discussions on drug policy. This has prompted a CSO member to point out that Burma’s drug issue “is all about us without us.” Indeed, since the drug problem affects everybody, it was time all stakeholders came together to find a solution, instead of wasting time looking for a culprit.

Until then, the United States should continue encouraging all of the stakeholders to work together instead of engaging in a debate whether or not to continue decertifying the country.

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Burma Army continues troop deployment to SSPP/SSA areas, despite promising to withdraw

Despite a promise to the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) by the Burma Army’s Central Eastern Commander that government troops would be withdrawn from contested SSPP/SSA areas, troop reinforcements are still being sent into the area.

After the SSPP/SSA had been forced to withdraw from their Ta Phar Hsawng base in Ke See township in early October, they met with the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee in Lashio on 18th October, where the Central Eastern Commander General Ko Ko Naing promised that government troops would be withdrawn from the disputed territories.

However, according to local residents, on 20th October 2014, the Eastern Region Command (Ya Pa Kha), based in Taunggyi, sent in at least ten trucks and over 200 troops to the SSPP/SSA controlled area.

“Strangely, the Burma Army has been sending in reinforcements in construction trucks, not military trucks. The soldiers were in civilian clothes, not army uniforms, and they were also hiding their guns and weapons. All troops from Lashio and Kholam were sent to the area in that way,” said a local residents who lives near the LIB 286 base in Murng Nong.

The government troops are also setting up a base at Ta Phar Hsawng, which they seized from the SSPP/SSA. They are ordering villagers to voluntarily provide them with bamboo, wood, and thatch to build their base, according to local villagers.
“General Ko Ko Naing said that the government troops that had been attacking the Ta Phar Hsawng base would retreat. He said that only two Burma Army units would stay in the area, and five units would be withdrawn. But so far we haven’t seen any sign that they will withdraw. Instead, they are digging trenches. In Murng Hsu we have seen around 10 military trucks moving toward Murng Ort. Since 17th October, there have also been 6 military trucks coming down from Tangyan,” said one of the SSPP/SSA commanders at the frontlines.

According to an officer from the SSPP/SSA headquarters, the Central Eastern Command has demanded that the SSPP/SSA withdraw all their troops from the areas of Tah Phar Hsawng, Pan Ze, and Loi Yoi, in Ke See township, within five days, or they would have to use force to drive out the SSPP/SSA.
Apart from promising to withdraw their troops at the Lashio meeting, the Burma Army also agreed to provide compensation of around 2.2 million kyats (USD 2,200) to the war refugees and to villagers whose homes were destroyed and who lost their property due to the fighting in Ta Phar Hsawng. However, according to local residents, no compensation has yet been given to any villagers.

The SSPP/SSA and the Burmese government signed a union level cease fire agreement nearly three years ago, but there has continued to be fighting between the two sides. Accusing the SSPP/SSA of intruding into Union territories, the Burma Army has progressively occupied SSPP/SSA areas and bases.

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Does the Shan Word ‘Death’ Tell Us?!

I. Introduction!
‘…the Shan is a Buddhist when he is well and animist when he is ill’, this is a statement made by (James Haxton) Telford, a scholar who had studied animism in Burma. He further comments that despite the fact that Shan have been converted to Buddhism for centuries, the breakaway from animism was never completed (Telford: 1937). To some degree, his statement is still relevant to most Shan Buddhists today. They celebrate religious ceremonies lavishly all year round in their happy days. But in times of ailing, they are busy with animistic ways, such as, consulting the shaman, searching for khwan (ၶႂၼ်/ၽၼ်) (soul), incantation candle etc until it becomes difficult for outsiders to differentiate between Buddhism and animism. This is partly due to the fact that the Shan have embraced Buddhism and some animism beliefs have been redefined to fit into new religious context.

Read details here>>

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BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Failing to secure negotiated surrender government falls back on “Plan B”

Within a week, four recent interviews, three with Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) top negotiators and one with union parliamentarian, U Hla Swe, who has attended the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) meeting in Rangoon, would likely be a barometer, indicating which way the political wind is blowing and whether the ongoing peace process will be stalled altogether.

The first interview is with the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) leader, General Gun Maw, who is also a top NCCT peace negotiator. He said that during the peace talks, from September 22 to 26, although it was agreed to tackle the issue of troops deployment on both sides, the government said that it would take on the issue at a later date. And now the military has demanded that the KIA Battalion 6 stationed near Hpakant's jade mines to move out, on the grounds that its troopers were demanding taxes from the mining companies. However, the KIA was told to hold its ground by the headquarters. This stance was again confirmed by RFA report on 20 October.

When asked, by the DVB on 18 October, what General Gun Maw would like to comment on the government demand of KIA troops to move out, during this ongoing period of peace talks with the NCCT, he said: "The situation makes us think about it. The KIO central committee assess the issue this morning (October 17). During the NCCT and UPWC meeting, the military refused to discuss about troops deployment. Actually, after rejecting to talk about the agreement on troops withdrawal and code of conduct, it is giving ultimatum that the KIA Battalion 6 moves out, which make us think if the government has changed its mind."

He further said: "In our view, in order to move forward in peace process, problems need to be resolved. Now the example of solving problem with the DKBA is not correct. Again, the example of solving problem with the Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) is not right. The example of solving problem with our KIA is also not adequate. We see that solving the problems through military means is not quite appropriate."

SHAN reported on 19 October that 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.

On 2 October said that Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Burma Army ordered to attack SSPP/SSA base of Ta Pha Sawng and other outposts in Kehsi Township.  It is said the offensive, with some 1,000 Burma Army troops, was due to the SSA refusal to withdraw from the said base, which the Burma Army has been demanding to evacuate.

The second interview is with Nai Han Thar or Nai Hong Sar, New Mon State Party (NMSP) Chief and NCCT top negotiator. In a video interview with the DVB, on 18 October, he pointed out the backsliding situation of the peace process, due to the government offensives, on the heels of the failed or unsuccessful September peace negotiation, with heavy armed clashes in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Mon States. The government troops have been on aggressive moves against the KIA, Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), SSPP/SSA and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).

He particularly stressed that the military, which is part of the Union Peacemaking Work committee (UPWC), rejected the terms of "federal union, federal army formation and rights of self-determination". During the previous round of peace talks in August, the said terms were already agreed to be discussed, during the phase of political dialogue. But the military made an about-turn with the agreement, demanding to add "according to the current existing law" in front of the "rights of self-determination". Nai Hong Sar said that this would mean the acceptance of the military-drawn 2008 Constitution, which is out of question. Apart from rejecting the word "federal", the military also like to change the word "federal army formation" to "union army issue", buttressing it with the argument that the Burma Army or Tatmadaw is already a union army, employing many ethnic groups residing within the country. On top of that, the military also asked that the words "revolution" should be taken out of the context, which earlier has been agreed to be used in the ceasefire agreement text, except on the front cover. The NCCT argues that, in order to uphold its dignity, it has to differentiate with the other armed groups that are either Border Guard Force (BGF), government militias or drug trafficking gangs.

The third interview is conducted by Mizzima, on 18 October, with Hkun Okker, Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) patron and NCCT top negotiator. He said: " We cannot make any concession more in our discussion with the government. It depends on how much the government could make concession and adjustment."

The fourth interview is the union parliamentarian U Hla Swe with DVB, on 18 October. He has attended a meeting dubbed "Internal Peace Process and the Role of Parliament", held at Max hotel, in Rangoon by the MPC. According to the explanation of the MPC officials, he said. "They discussed that it has not reached the political discussion phase and are of the opinion that the peace process will go beyond 2015 and proceed well into 2016. At the end, political process will be debated and discussed within the parliament. Finally, political dialogue will be decided by the parliament. One cannot disregard the parliament and it will take the leading role in the peace process."

Accordingly, RFA report on 20 October said that the MPC officials and the parliamentarians attending the meeting have agreed to table the MPC's six steps peace process procedure, at the parliament, for approval.

This piece of news has to be read together with the SHAN report of 14 October. SHAN writes: “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.”

And by mentioning “Plan B”, the President is indicating to implement the “Open Book” strategy or way of doing things, where parties could sign NCA individually at their convenience and not necessarily doing it together. Of course, this is a far cry from nationwide ceasefire and a total loss of face, besides losing the promised international development aids, which would follow only after the signing of the NCA.

Another political facet is that the President and his top negotiator, U Aung Min, have spelled out their real demand that the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO) must give in to the military-drawn 2008 Constitution, which is exactly a non-starter. All the non-Burman ethnic nationalities have been demanding the amendment or rewriting the constitution to be in line with their aspirations of equality, democracy and rights of self-determination, anchored in a real federal union. This “constitutional crisis” has been plaguing the country for decades and coercively pushing to make the EAO accept it is like declaring an all out war on them.

Summing up the whole situation, the military offensives and tension created by the Burma Army is designed to derail the peace process, so that the supremacy position of the military could be maintained. It is now clear that military is acting on the directive of the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), which is headed by the President and military top brass. In other words, the image of President being a reformist and the military seen as hard-liner has been totally shattered. In other words, the government, parliament and the military are all under one blanket.

Hopefully, this senseless heightening of the armed conflict and poverty of wisdom and lack of accommodation won't last too long, so that normalcy could return to this deeply divided society.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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"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 and

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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