Lack of telecoms disrupts services in Mong Kung, says MP



A lack of telephone signal is causing disruptions to services such as health, education and social welfare in Mong Kung Township, said Sai Seng Murng, an MP representing the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, speaking in parliament on Wednesday.

Photo Pyithu Hluttaw- (left) Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Htant Zin Maung and (right) Sai Seng Murng, an MP representing the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy in Mong Kung Township.
He added that this “barrier” was resulting in huge problems for residents, and was hurting the local economy.

Situated 100 kilometres east of Mandalay, the town of Mong Kung has a population of over 61,000. It is located at a high altitude of 1,095 m (3,593 ft) and is surrounded by mountains on all sides, making it difficult for radio, television and mobile phone reception.

State-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications currently provides relay stations for mobile phone signals to 21 towns in southern Shan State.

Of the two international firms with telecoms licenses in Burma, Norwegian company Telenor provides a GSM service to 192 ports, while Qatar-based Ooredoo covers 81. However, because of its terrain, Mong Kung Township only receives signals on CDMA-450 MHz; its GSM service is still in process.

MP Sai Seng Murng said yesterday that Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Htant Zin Maung understood the difficulties facing people in Mong Tung.

He said that the minister had promised to try to solve the problem. He also said that, within the next five years, towns along the border or in rural areas will also have working mobile phone signals.

“In the past, no one talked about Mong Kung. No one knew where it was,” said Sai Seng Murng. “Now that I have raised this issue, people across the country will know about it.”

A proposal to debate the lack of telecoms services in Mong Tong was submitted to the lower house on August 29, and tabled at the parliamentary session on September 28.

BY- Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)





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WAR OF ESCALATION IN KACHIN STATE: Why are the guns not silent?



Actually, the Union Peace Conference (UPC) or 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) is supposed to bring all warring parties into an atmosphere of peaceful negotiation that would lead to reconciliation and end the some seven decades old ethnic conflict. But just the opposite is happening in the aftermath of the conference, as the Tatmadaw – also known as Burma Army or the military - offensives against the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) dominated the news, prompting many to wonder why the guns could not be silenced, which is the most important crucial stabilizing factor in trust-building that could lead to a wider peaceful negotiations and eventually, the political settlement.

The on and off military engagement between the KIA and the Tatmadaw has become a routine ever since the seventeen years of ceasefire broke down in 2011. But the escalation of the armed conflicts that have intensified right after the 21CPC and while its initiator, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was away on a visit to the United Kingdom and the United States, has quite a different impact and meaning, which needs to be pondered.

According to RFA and The Irrawaddy report, the Tatmadaw conducted air strikes on 23 September in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township, continuing a week-long offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Offensives against the KIA’s Brigade 5 have been ongoing since earlier this week, while military manoeuvrers have increased against other KIA brigades—2, 3 and 4—in Kachin and northern Shan states for months, according to KIA spokesman Lt-Col Naw Bu.

Naw Bu said “two helicopter gunships shot at the Lai Hpau Bum [or Lai Hpau post] for about 30 minutes, starting at 2 pm.” on Friday.

He said that since 20 September, Burma Army troops used 120 mm and 105 mm artillery to attack Lai Hpau and nearby outpost Nhkaram, which are about three kilometres away from the Myitkyina-Bhamo highway.

The KIA troops are a security unit, used to defend the KIA headquarters in Laiza, which is about 30-40 kilometres from the current area of engagement.

Naw Bu said that the offensives could be an effort to “put pressure on the KIA” to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), in order to “implement the Burma Army’s plan to bring the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of non-state armed groups,” which was raised by military representatives during the UPC.

The Kachin News Group (KNG) reported that the Lai Hpau and Nhkaram outposts were repeatedly attacked since the month of August. But during last week the offensive intensified, with the Burma army using some 300 to 500 troopers, firing artillery, to overrun the KIA camps. The KNG Burmese section of 22 September said that the Burma Army casualty figure to be 70 killed in action and 40 wounded, while the KIA suffered one death. However, the said figures were not confirmed by either side of the warring parties.

Meanwhile, KNG on 19 September reported that some 300 Burma Army soldiers slipped into China, reportedly wearing civilian clothes which a border observer on military affairs suspected  would be used to attacked the Laiza headquarters. Reportedly in the past, when the Burma Army attacked and seized the KIO’s former headquarters at Nahpaw-Pajau Bum in 1987, its troops had attacked the KIA positions from across the border in China, according to KIA officials.



In addition, The Myanmar Times reported recently that military involving infantry troops, armoured vehicle squads, air force personnel and an anti-terrorism unit all participated in the combined military exercise which involved several fighter jets. The final day of the exercise included mobilising a 155-millimetre howitzer and 122-millimetre rocket missiles.

The Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing was there on September 24 following a drill that exercised both land and air fleets. The Tatmadaw chief said the two-day exercise – and the expenditure of much time, money and manpower to conduct it – was necessary to build the capacity of soldiers shouldering the duty of national defence.

Although Min Aung Hlaing said that that the Burma army is doing this exercise as a conventional war game to build the capacity for conventional war purpose, in the light of the heightened military offensives on the KIA, some suspected that it could also be the preparation of a wider war.

Some few days ago there were also reports that the humanitarian aid destined for the internally displaced persons (IDP) along the Burma-China border were blocked by the military, saying that it might be for the KIA.

Given such circumstances and in order to make sense, as to why the military is so determined to be on war path,  it is necessary to look at the military's mindset, particularly its world outlook and political conviction.

Military mindset

One thing is quite certain, for good or bad, the military knows that continued military dictatorship or something similar to that mode of governance system is not the way to go. But one should not be misled that the military has overnight become a saint or an enlightened democrat. It wants changes, but on its own terms and the main concern is that economically the country cannot be left behind, especially in comparison to its neighbouring countries that are well ahead of Burma. Besides, it is also interested to reduce the dependence on China, which during its years of isolation has been the only supporter of the then military regime.

And what exactly is this military's “own terms”? To come short to the point, it is none other than the vehicle of disciplined flourishing democracy, which is anchored in the military-drawn, 2008 constitution, where its leading role and veto power are ensured, to protect its own group's survival and interest.

In clear text, “to keep the military apparatus as it is now”, with ethnic Bamar domination and assimilation of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) into its Border Guard Force (BGF) scheme and “further continuation of the 2008 constitution”, with some cosmetic amendments to show that it has some features of federalism.

This means reforming just enough to uplift the country's economic, with its hold on power intact, and not in anyway a genuine federalism that cater to the real democratic principles. But the restless EAOs and the ethnic nationalities are determined to achieve an equitable federal union and the reformation of the military to be a genuine federal army, not Bamar dominated army as it is now the case.

Three core reform problems

According to Ye Myo Hein, executive director of Tagaung Institute of Political Studies (TIPS), the Burma Army has three core reformation problems, which are indoctrination, institutional and political involvement, in his interview with the Frontier Myanmar on 8 July 2016.

He said regarding the indoctrination problematic, the military is convinced that they have to lead and guard the country.

Institutionally, he said: “They are not a professional military outfit yet. They have a lot of things to do to become a professional military. The codes of conduct are not strong enough and they have notorious human rights abuses that they need to solve”.

The third problem is a political one, which he stressed: “They are heavily involved in political affairs by having seats in parliament and the cabinet. If we talk about a civilian-military issue, we also have to talk about an ethnic-military issue. The military has problems with ethnic groups also”.

He summed up: “So there are three issues. The commander-in-chief has said they will form a professional army. If they want to do that, then they have to solve these three problems”.

Pushing through military's own agendas

During the recent 21CPC, the military when delivering its position papers made it very clear that the military-drawn 2008 constitution would be the basis on which amendments could be made to become more federal, as it already has all the features to fulfil the task.

As it is, the military doesn't have to take orders from the government. Thus it usually conducts and executes its own policy, especially where the ethnic states and the EAOs are concerned, the way it sees fit.

The exclusion of 3 EAOs – Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) - from attending the 21CPC and offensives decision-making in Shan and Kachin states are examples, which showed even if the government wanted to have all inclusiveness political participation and unilateral or bilateral ceasefire, it was able to reject and torpedo them. And this is still ongoing in both of the issues mentioned.

This means in the light of what is happening in Kachin state, one could only conclude that the military is pursuing its own agenda of annihilation or surrender of the EAOs rather than the desired give-and-take negotiation process. And the NLD government is absolutely powerless against the military manipulation in important matters.

For example, in the case of 3 EAOs the military demanded them to issue the statement of  repentance for their armed struggle position. In other words, to confess their wrong doings for waging a resistance war. No one would believe such an undiplomatic ultimatum would be suggested by Suu Kyi, but Deputy Director General of the President’s Office Zaw Htay, who is a former military officer and also holds the same position during Thein Sein's tenure, confirmed that it was exactly the case.

In a BBC report at the end of August, Zaw Htay when asked whether if this handling of the 3 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 what the State Counsellor has agreed upon is also the opinion of the military and the parliament.”
And regarding this, Suu Kyi was unable to do anything but kept silent, least she would be revealing her helplessness against military manipulation of the situation.

Brewing Cold-War?

Bertil Lintner, Swedish journalist, author and Burma expert, is of the opinion: “There is a new Cold War in Asia with an increasingly assertive China on one side and a loose alliance of the US, India and Japan on the other. In May this year, the US announced that it would lift its arms embargo against Vietnam, hardly a democratic nation that respects human rights, but a very useful ally against China,” according to a recent interview, on 12 September, by The Irrawaddy.

The same report added: “In 2011, Burma began to drift away from the close alliance it had had with China since crushing the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, [a move that] was welcomed by the US. In fact, Burma is the only example of the US managing to expand its influence at the expense of China’s”.

Although it is not clear to what extend the President Obama's lifting of all the remaining sanctions, regarding the military would be covered, the United States has already re-engaged military cooperation with Burma since 2013, focusing on humanitarian issues, officer professionalization and human rights, in an effort to encourage the Burma Army to transform into a professional security force with civilian oversight.

In addition to the United States' military engagement, Japanese defence minister Tomomi Inada and her Burma counterpart, Lieutenant General Sein Win, agreed on 21 September to strengthen security co-operation between their countries, a Japanese official told Kyodo news agency. It is said to include increasing military capabilities, accepting students from Burma at the National Defence Academy of Japan, among others.

Perspective

While it might be premature to assume that the Cold-War is indeed taking shape in Asian region, with Burma perhaps playing a minor role, within the whole conflict spectrum, the super power and  the aspiring super power - China, confrontation could also be real. But this would depend on how the give-and-take factors between the contending parties would play out or develop.

For now, no one knows how the South China Sea debacle would be resolved, with China claiming jurisdiction and the West, particularly the United State opposing it. The joint-military exercises between the United States, Japan and some Southeast Asian countries are examples of resistance against Chinese dominance in the region.

The latent rivalry in Burma context between the West and China is also there, even no one is portraying it earnestly for now that it could become a spark for the mini-Cold-War, with some EAOs siding with China on one side and some with the Western interest, including the Burma Army, on the other. A similar pattern like the war in Vietnam, so to speak.

But the world's international configuration has drastically changed over the years and such a scenario might be quite  out of mode - although could still be possible - given that the intertwined globalization market mechanism where China's market potential for the West and vice versa could not be ignored.

Even then, despite denial, the United State's encirclement or containment policy on China is there and the Chinese efforts to influence Burma as a whole to come out as a winner is also not a secret.

But one thing is sure, China sees Burma as part of its dominated sphere to profit economically, politically and would not tolerate the country to be part of the United State's containment tools. And while the Chinese are on charm offensives offering various goods and incentives doling out “carrots”, the stick also exist in form of the EAOs, that it has its influence along the China-Burma border.

How does this situation be interpreted from the realpolitik point of view? one might like to ask. And the simple answer would be, if the National League for Democracy (NLD) regime leans too much on the West, the stick could be used. But if the regime is accommodative to its economic schemes and of course, at least political neutrality would be maintained, if not wholeheartedly to China's liking, it would help end the war of ethnic conflict by pressuring its so-called proxies to play along, so that peace could be restored. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) participation of the 21CPC, from 31 August to 3 September in Naypyitaw, is the case in point. 

Thus, a recent article in South China Morning Post which said that the United State is no match for China in this ensuing game is quite correct. The United State and West is far and China is just across the border and a big regional power, which is aiming to become a super power anytime soon.

Therefore, the recent Burma Army's escalation of conflict in Kachin and Shan States doesn't fit well into the holistic political consideration of Suu Kyi and the NLD.

An ideal planned scenario would be the all-inclusiveness participation of all EAOs, which China has  dutifully done to let its so-called proxies EAOs chip in, to be followed by nationwide peace negotiations, national reconciliation and development.

But the military's thwarting of this noble scheme is questionable and one couldn't help but think that it is deliberately keeping the war flames burning to demonstrate its hard power and to pressure the NLD regime to accept its line of thinking, which are non-inclusiveness participation of the EAOs and its ultimate plan of DDR implementation. The heart of the problem is, that it is not ready to become an equal partner negotiator, like the rest of the stakeholders, but determined to positioned itself above all others and pushes through its preconceived ideas through coercive hard power usage.

To sum up, the first priority of ending the war through negotiation is being thwarted by the military, while no one is sure if this is due to its commitment to hold on to power as a sole self-employed saviour of the nation or determined to see through its military and Bamar ethnocentrism aspirations and conviction. And in process, it is dictating its preconceived ideas to the NLD through its hard power implementation to hang on to power that it is accustomed to for more than fifty years, if not for anything else.

As for the NLD regime, it has to do a tight rope walking of maintaining neutrality and maximize the country's interest so that it could deliver the goods to the public. But first the guns have to be silenced and it is not in the position to convince the military to stop the offensives, in order to fulfil the necessary implementation of genuine nationwide ceasefire; amendments of Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) and Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA); all-inclusive signing of the NCA; state and region-level political dialogue; and holding the national-level political dialogue at the 21CPC, to determine the country's future.

In short, whether all the deliberations of peace process could be smoothly conducted hinges on if the military would stop its senseless offensives first and agree to either a unilateral or bilateral nationwide ceasefire. Otherwise, it will be a vicious circle of waging war and talking peace, benefiting no one in a real sense, not even the military.

 


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Kyaukme children fear going back to school in war zone



Some 300 students do not want to go back to school in their village of Tawsarng, Kyaukme Township, as they fear being caught in the crossfire of fighting between ethnic factions in the area, according to a local MP from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).


Sai Tun Ngan, the SNLD representative for Kyaukme Township Constituency No 2, said that even though the school in Tawsarng village has re-opened, the children do not want to return.

“Nobody can predict the situation here,” he said. “The kids are worried that they will have to evacuate the school again and run away.”

These children are among hundreds of families forced to flee their homes as hostilities intensified recently between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) after clashes broke out in November last year. Some became displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering in camps, while others have fled the country to seek livelihoods elsewhere.

Shan Herald reported on September 13 that representatives of both ethnic militias had met in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, to try to thrash out a solution.

However, clashes between the two armed groups are ongoing, according to the TNLA’s News and Information Department on September 25. The most recent bout of hostilities, it reported, has been taking place in the village of Manmai in Mantong Township.

According to Mai Aik Tun, a teacher from an IDP shelter in Metha Oo Way, many children are developing mental health problems due to the trauma of war.

“Actually, they do want to go back to their village and study at school,” he said. “But they are afraid because they do not feel protected.”

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)



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Soon one year NCA: Not all smiles, but not all frowns either



Less than a month from now, the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) will be one year old. Whether more EAOs (ethnic armed organizations) will follow suit this year will partly rest on the progress report by both the government and the 8 EAOs that had affixed their names to the 7 chapter - 33 articles treaty.

So far there are no reports about a combined statement by the signatories. But, one of them, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), is already preparing one. 
The following is a summary from it.

Right  after the signing, the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) was called, as required by the NCA (Article 21 a), to form the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) that deals with military matters, and the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) that deals with political matters. Terms of Reference (ToR) for all three bodies were drafted and approved.
Other requirements that had to be fulfilled by the signatories were:

·         Military Code of Conduct (CoC) within 30 days of the signing (Article11)
·         Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) within 60 days of the signing (Article 20b)
·         Political Dialogue (PD) within 90 days of the signing (Article 21 c)

·         Accordingly, the first Union Peace Conference (UPC) #1 was held, 11-16 January 2016, followed by UPC#2, also known as 21st Century Panglong, 31 August -3 September 2016
·         Also, as stipulated by Article 26, the NCA was submitted to the Union legislature and ratified without dissent on 8 December

In addition, the signatory EAOs retain the right to bear arms and defend their people and areas (Chapter 3) and are exempted from the notorious Unlawful Association Act (UAA) which bans people from working with the EAOs (Article 24).
Other than those enumerated above, the RCSS that had signed 3 bilateral agreements also enjoys other dues which include:

·         Setting up of liaison offices in 7 major towns: (Mongton, Tachilek, Kengtung, Mongpan, Kholam, Taunggyi, and Muse)
·         Freedom to hold public consultations and meetings with political parties and CSOs
The outcome was the founding of the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU), a joint effort by two main political parties and two main EAOS of Shan State: Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) and RCSS/SSA, in 2013.
Its main aim is to represent the common concerns and wishes of Shan State during the peace negotiations.

For the people at the ground level, the immediate blessings are: no more fleeing their villages, no more forced portering and significant reduction in the number of rights abuses. “Since the signing, there has been only 5 clashes,” states the draft. “Which means we still have a lot of work to do before complete ceasefire is achieved.”

The work includes demarcation, demining, expansion of network with CSOs, increased funding, setting up of a joint interim arrangement body which will deal with matters related to development and security in the EAO areas, such as health, education, environmental conservation, promotion of ethnic culture, language and literature, maintenance of rule of law, receiving aid from donor agencies and eradication of drugs (Article 25).

As to be expected, there are grievances too:

·         The unwanted fighting with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) since November, which has the potential to blow up into communal strife

·       No economic development programs being implemented. “The government appears to be worried that if we become self-supportive, we, like the KIO (Kachin Independence Organization) and the UWSA (United Wa State Army), would be just as difficult to negotiate,” comments one of the RCSS top leaders

·     Different interpretations of both bilateral agreements and the NCA. “For example, the Tatmadaw believes all our troops should regroup and remain inside Homong and Monghta sub-townships,” explains a commander. “But, according to our understanding, the two said sub-townships are only for establishing RCSS administrative centers.”

·         Little cooperation between the two sides against illicit drugs. The two had signed an agreement in October 2012, but so far no implementation,

The result is that there is still a serious lack of trust between the two sides, which had fought several major campaigns in the past.

The best way to build trust is to be trustworthy, say experts. But there are other ways too, like meeting not only formally but also informally. Many of us know the NCA was signed after 9 formal meetings, but few of us realize they were complemented by hundreds of informal ones. Taking a cue from that it is likely we may need thousands of informal meetings before we can sign the Union Accord.

Happy Birthday, NCA!



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