Monday, August 29, 2016

National News

National News

Nearly 400 Bagan pagodas damaged by earthquake: govt

Posted: 29 Aug 2016 12:46 AM PDT

As the list of Bagan pagodas damaged by last week's earthquake continues to grow, the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library said yesterday that repair work would take at least one year to complete.

Anger over international experts appointed to Rakhine commission

Posted: 29 Aug 2016 12:45 AM PDT

Nationalist are already clashing with a newly convened advisory commission tasked with forming a long-term plan for Rakhine State. Furious over the inclusion of international experts on the body, the detractors are raising concerns over a perceived growing international influence over local affairs, and have accused the government of breaching sovereignty.

Yangon and Mogok rally in support of Panglong

Posted: 29 Aug 2016 12:25 AM PDT

Crowds gathered in Yangon and Mogok yesterday to demonstrate public support for the 21st-century Panglong Conference, slated for later this week.

Residents encamped along highway vow to return if evicted

Posted: 29 Aug 2016 12:13 AM PDT

Defiant residents have laid down a challenge to the Yangon Region government: If you evict us, we will return. The squatters insist they will not be driven from their homes because they have nowhere else to go.

Absence of aftershocks rattles geologists

Posted: 29 Aug 2016 12:12 AM PDT

A senior geologist in Thailand has warned that the 6.8-magnitude earthquake that shook central Myanmar last week could be followed by an even stronger seismic event, given the absence of aftershocks so far.

UN chief calls interfaith meeting on sidelines of peace conference

Posted: 28 Aug 2016 11:54 PM PDT

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has invited religious leaders to an interfaith meeting in Nay Pyi Taw later this week.

KIO acknowledges participation in Panglong Conference

Posted: 28 Aug 2016 11:53 PM PDT

The Kachin Independence Organisation has agreed to participate in the 21st-century Panglong Conference which convenes in Nay Pyi Taw on August 31, according to a statement released by the group on August 27.

SNLD gets ready to participate in by-election

Posted: 28 Aug 2016 11:32 PM PDT

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy is preparing to vie for parliamentary seats in two townships where voting was cancelled in 2015 over security concerns, Pyithu Hluttaw MP Sai Thiha Kyaw (SNLD; Mine-ye/Mong Yai) told The Myanmar Times.

With funding and staff constraints, Ethnic Affairs Ministry faces delays

Posted: 28 Aug 2016 11:25 PM PDT

Due to a shortage of funds and extremely limited staffing, the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs will not be fully functional until the next financial year, according to a deputy director general.

CSOs call for suspension of Asia Highway construction

Posted: 28 Aug 2016 11:23 PM PDT

Karen civil society groups are calling for an immediate suspension of construction along the conflict-ridden Asia Highway. As the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups vie for control of the main artery between Thailand and Myanmar – and the right to impose tariffs along it – local civilians have been displaced, driven from an active conflict zone.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News

Burma army attacks SSPP/SSA ahead of Panglong Conference

Posted: 29 Aug 2016 02:10 AM PDT

Less than a week ahead of Burma's historic 21st Century Panglong Conference, the Burmese army has launched an offensive against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) in northern Shan State's Lashio District, according to an SSPP/SSA official.

Maj. Sai Hsu, the spokesperson of the SSPP/SSA, said that the fighting broke out yesterday near the village of Kong Ark Lieng in Mong Gao tract of Tangyan Township, Lashio District, when a Burmese government unit under the control of North Eastern Command violated SSPP/SSA territory.

"A Tatmadaw[government forces] unit under command of Tangyan attacked us," he said. "The fighting lasted from 4:15pm to 6pm on Sunday. And then at 7pm, they attacked us again with artillery."

Prior to the fighting, the Shan army spokesman said, some 30 Burmese soldiers were called in as reinforcements at Mong Gao base No. 33.

On April 29, Shan Herald reported that the Burmese army's North Eastern Command has deployed troops to the Loi Je/ Loi Leng area in Tangyan Township, an SSPP/SSA stronghold, while ordering the group to withdraw from the Loi Je/ Loi Leng ridge.

The SSPP/SSA said it has been active in that area for more than 50 years, and therefore refused to evacuate.

"If we withdraw from this area, it would mean withdrawing from Mongsu Township too," Maj. Sai Hsu said. "If we look at military strategy, we would be giving too much advantage to the Tatmadaw."

Loi Je/ Loi Leng ridge is located to the west of the Salween River, near United Wa State Army (UWSA)-controlled territory.

Observers say that Loi Je/ Loi Leng is where the SSPP/SSA makes contact with the Wa. They speculate that government forces are trying to divide the SSPP/SSA from the UWSA or create problems between the two militias.

SSPP/SSA was one of the United Nationalities Federal Council members that did not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement, or NCA, with the Thein Sein government last year. However, it has signed state-level and union-level ceasefire accords.

During the election period last year, the Burmese army launched offensives against the SSPP/SSA, causing more than 6,000 people including women and children to be displaced from their homes.

"This is the time for building peace," said Maj. Sai Hsu. "I don't understand why they are attacking us."

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News

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

Posted: 28 Aug 2016 08:00 AM PDT

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.

Burma Peace: Let the truth be told!

Posted: 28 Aug 2016 03:45 AM PDT

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!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

This Week in Parliament (August 22-26)

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 07:39 PM PDT

A view of the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw during its opening session on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

A view of the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw during its opening session on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Monday August 22

In the Upper House, Sai Aung Htun of Shan State Constituency 2 asked if by-elections would be held in Shan State's Mong Hsu and Kyethi townships, since polls were not held in those townships during the 2015 general election due to conflict. Aung Myint, member of the Union Election Commission (UEC), replied that when by-elections are held in early 2017, polls will be organized in those townships in line with election laws and by-laws on the condition that the two townships meet the requirements to host free and fair polls.

Tuesday August 23

In the Union Parliament, lawmakers discussed the draft law to amend the 2016 Union Budget Law. The parliamentary by-vote approved the draft law, which cuts ministry budgets, except for the ministries of education, health, ethnic affairs, defense and the state counselor's office. About 470 billion kyats (US$400 million) were slashed from a 20 trillion kyats ($16.5 billion) government budget.

Deputy Minister for Planning and Finance Maung Maung Win elaborated on the signing of the second revised Asean comprehensive investment agreement by Burma.

Lawmakers discussed the president's proposal to ratify the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities.

Wednesday August 24

In the Lower House, lawmakers debated Dr. Hla Moe's proposal, which urged the Ministry of Education to adopt a system that could properly assess the educational qualifications of students at a basic level in order to contribute to the educational policy and objectives of the government. Parliament documented the proposal.

In the Upper House, lawmakers debated the science, technology and innovation draft law. In response to the discussions, the Speaker of the Upper House asked the bill committee to review the discussions.

The Union Parliament passed a bill to amends the 2016 Union Budget Law.

Thursday August 24

In the Lower House, lawmakers debated the amendments proposed by the Upper House to the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, and approved a draft law to amend it.

In the Upper House, Min Naing of Sagaing Division Constituency 12 asked if the government had a plan to appoint ethnic language teachers during the 2016-17 academic year. Union Minister for Education Dr. Myo Thein Gyi replied that his ministry did not have a plan for the time being, but that textbooks in 49 ethnic languages for grades 1, 2 and 3 had been distributed to 540,000 students in 187 townships, and a budget had been allocated for ethnic language teachers.

In the Union Parliament, lawmakers continued discussing the ratification of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities, and Parliament approved the ratification of the convention.

Friday August 26

In the Lower House, Win Myint Aung of Dabayin Constituency asked if the government had a plan to form committees to supervise prisons and take care of inmates. Deputy Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Aung Soe replied that the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, Supreme Court judges, local authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross make visits to prisons and leave recommendations, and that his ministry acts on those recommendations and therefore has no plan to form such committees.

In the Upper House, Pe Chit of Rangoon Constituency 9 asked if the government had a plan to sign the Ottawa Treaty and whether there was mine detection and clearance plans in place to help save the lives of rural people in current and former conflict zones. The deputy defense minister  replied that it was currently impossible to sign the treaty given the ongoing clashes in the country. He added that his ministry was clearing mines in some areas of Karen State.

The Upper House also approved the territorial sea and maritime zone draft law.

The post This Week in Parliament (August 22-26) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Aug 27)

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 07:33 PM PDT

Myanmar specialty coffee makes its debut in the United States during a private tasting with industry professionals at La Colombe Coffee Roasters in Washington, D.C. on August 23, 2016.  (Photo: Reuters)

Myanmar specialty coffee makes its debut in the United States during a private tasting with industry professionals at La Colombe Coffee Roasters in Washington, D.C. on August 23, 2016.  (Photo: Reuters)

Rangoon Airport Domestic Terminal '80 Percent Complete'

The new domestic terminal for Yangon International Airport is expected to open in December this year, according to the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA).

About 80 percent of the terminal is currently completed as part of the project to upgrade the airport, a DCA official told local Burmese language daily The Voice.

Yangon Aerodrome Company Limited (YACL), a subsidiary of the US-blacklisted Asia World Company, was awarded the contract for the US$660 million airport project in 2013. Construction of the new domestic terminal started in May 2015.

YACL is the investor, operator and builder for the project as well as the manager of the existing airport. It holds a 30-year contract to manage the new airport.

4G Rollout Completed in Key Locations

Ooredoo Myanmar and Nokia have completed the rollout and launch of the first 4G service in Burma, the companies announced this week.

The high-capacity service is now operating in Rangoon, Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Bagan after an upgrade to existing 3G services, using the Nokia Single RAN and Packet Core platforms, which took less than three months to complete.

"We are proud to be the first to launch 4G services in Myanmar and plan to extend the network further in the future,'' Rene Meza, chief executive officer of Ooredoo Myanmar, said in a statement.

Nokia earlier provided its managed services expertise to Ooredoo Myanmar's 3G network, providing support from its global delivery center in Chennai, India, and in Burma.

Concerns Over Inflation

Fluctuating foreign exchange rates and rising gold prices are contributing to rising inflation in Burma, observers say.

On August 25, the US dollar exchange rate was 1,210 kyats, up from a rate of about 1,185 kyats two months earlier, while gold prices had reached 874,500 kyats ($730) per tical, according to the market. One tical is a traditional Burmese weight measurement equal to 16.33 grams (just over a half ounce).

This week the Central Bank of Myanmar announced that the current rate of inflation was 12.14 percent, surpassing World Bank predictions and causing concern among business leaders of an upward price spiral dampening local demand for goods.

U Thein Tun, chairman of the Myanmar Bankers Association and founder of the Tun Foundation Bank, told The Irrawaddy this week that an "unstable" dollar exchange rate acts as a contributing factor to inflation. The government should provide a solution, he added.

Burma's total trade volume dipped in the first quarter of this fiscal year, compared to the same period last year.

Economist U Aung Ko Ko has flagged the adverse impact of double digit inflation on working class people in Burma who are most affected by the price of basic commodities. The official minimum wage remains at 3,600 kyats per day (US$3), among the world's lowest.

Burma Coffee Enters US Market

The first commercial-scale exports of Burmese coffee to the United States arrived this month, Reuters reported.

Seattle-based Atlas Coffee Importers imported two containers totaling 600 60-kg bags.

US retail giant Whole Foods Market bought 41 bags, while specialty coffee chain La Colombe purchased 10 bags.

The Burmese coffee is to be sold as "single origin and as special coffee that we are offering," said Darrin Daniel, director of sourcing for the Allegro Coffee Company, a subsidiary of Whole Foods that supplies much of the food store's coffee.

Meanwhile, the Arabica beans were set to go on show at a La Colombe cafe in Washington D.C. this week.

The exports come in the wake of various initiatives to link Burmese growers with wider markets, including a Farmer-to-Farmer program and backing from USAID for improved production techniques.

Foreign Aid Boost for Banking, Agriculture

China will provide a package of US$150 million in aid to Burma for agriculture, education, cooperation on cultural affairs and aid to waterways, according to Deal Street Asia.

Meanwhile, the Japanese International Aid Agency (JICA) is set to issue a US$25.2 million loan to the Myanmar Economic Bank to support loans to small and medium enterprises by six local banks, local media reported.

Kanbawza Bank, CB bank, Aya Bank, Myanmar Citizens Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank and the Small and Medium Industrial Development Bank will be enabled to offer loans of between 15 million kyats ($12,500) and 500 million kyats ($415,000), with or without collateral, according to local reports.

The post The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Aug 27) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News

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

Posted: 27 Aug 2016 06:40 AM PDT

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 General Ne Win's era, in mid-seventies, 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

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

ANP Objects to Issuing of ‘Pink Card’ to Muslim Woman

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 09:10 AM PDT

Col. Htein Lin (standing), Arakan State's security and border affairs minister, talks with Kyaw Zaw Oo, an ANP member of regional parliament representing Sittwe's Constituency (2) (sitting, center) in a public meeting on Wednesday in the Arakan State capital. Also pictured are Aye Nu Sein, a lawyer and the ANP vice chairperson (right) and Htun Aung Thein (left) an ANP regional lawmaker for Buthidaung Township. (Photo: Kyaw Zaw Oo / Facebook)

Col. Htein Lin (standing), Arakan State's security and border affairs minister, talks with Kyaw Zaw Oo, an ANP member of regional parliament representing Sittwe's Constituency (2) (sitting, center) in a public meeting on Wednesday in the Arakan State capital. Also pictured are Aye Nu Sein, a lawyer and the ANP vice chairperson (right) and Htun Aung Thein (left) an ANP regional lawmaker for Buthidaung Township. (Photo: Kyaw Zaw Oo / Facebook)

RANGOON – Arakan National Party lawmakers have raised objections to a Muslim woman in Arakan State's Buthidaung Township being issued full citizenship earlier this month—an act which they say was carried out against existing regulations.

Kyaw Zaw Oo, an ANP regional parliamentarian, said that his claim that the woman's citizenship status was granted wrongfully is backed by the head of the immigration department, Win Lwin, and the Arakan State security border affairs minister Col. Htein Lin, a statement which The Irrawaddy could not confirm at the time of publication.

On Wednesday, four ANP representatives and the state governing body held a public meeting to discuss the objection of Buthidaung Township's Buddhist Arakanese residents to the national verification committee's recommendation for 31 of the township's Muslim residents to be granted citizenship.

Burma's 1982 Citizenship Law allows for three levels of citizenship with diminishing rights: full, naturalized and associate. Of the 31 individuals who applied under the category of "Bengali," in Buthidaung Township, it was reported that "two or three" of the applicants obtained full citizenship and the rest were recommended for naturalized citizenship.

After anti-Muslim violence spread throughout Arakan State in 2012 and 2013, an "Action Plan" for the region was introduced under the administration of ex-President Thein Sein in 2014. Included was a citizenship verification drive aimed at stateless Muslims in Arakan State—some of whom have other ethnic affiliations, such as the Kaman, an officially recognized group. Those self-identifying as ethnic Rohingya were required to register as "Bengali" in their application—an assertion that they are migrants with origins in Bangladesh, rather than Burma—or not be considered for citizenship.

Kyaw Zaw Oo, the ANP MP, said that in Wednesday's discussion, Col. Htein Lin—the minister for border affairs and security—and Win Lwin of the Arakan State immigration department openly debated the issuing of a "pink card" to the Buthidaung Township woman in question, a gesture indicating the granting of full citizenship.

The provision of the pink card was traced to her parents' status as holders of "tri-fold cards," the officials said. These documents were issued starting in 1958 and originally entitled holders to equal rights as other Burmese citizens, until the 1982 Citizenship Law re-defined citizenship eligibility along ethnic lines.

Kyaw Zaw Oo claims that there are two short sentences on the tri-fold card stating that it must not be regarded as identification for citizenship; by issuing a pink card, or full citizenship, to the woman in question, he said, the government would be legally recognizing the now-defunct tri-fold cards as a basis for the citizenship of its bearers.

"So, why should they give a pink card to her?" he said, describing the officials' action as "daring to contravene the law."

Many of the applications for citizenship by Muslims in the area are based on possession of tri-fold cards.

According to Aye Nu Sein, the vice chairperson of ANP who participated in Wednesday's meeting, security and border affairs minister Htein Lin promised the ANP representatives that the government would adhere to existing laws, but he remained vague on whether they would terminate the township level committee's recommendations for citizenship in the case of the group of 29 of the 31 Muslim residents in question, as the ANP has demanded.

On Aug. 17, around 400 Arakanese Buddhist residents of Buthidaung Township gathered at the Aye Zedi monastery to denounce government officials and launch a poster campaign in response to the recent citizenship recommendations. "For sale" signs were placed in front of their homes and businesses, suggesting that they would leave the township if ineligible "Bengalis" started being recognized as citizens, which they say has led to a rise in crime and disputes over land.

The post ANP Objects to Issuing of 'Pink Card' to Muslim Woman appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Peace and Reconciliation Call For New Ways of Looking Back

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 08:14 AM PDT

Children attend class at a school in Rangoon. Whose history are they learning? (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Children attend class at a school in Rangoon. Whose history are they learning? (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Burma has moved one step in the right direction, towards federalism. This has been the result of mutual commitment by the government and ethnic armed groups, as part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signed in October last year. The form of federalism to be adopted, and the processes of establishing it, presents a likely agenda for political dialogue between the government, the military, ethnic armed groups and political parties, which is a crucial part of the peace and national reconciliation process.

But where does history fit into this process?

The question is important for two reasons. The first relates to the possibility that political dialogue could address the country's seventy-year-old armed conflict. This conflict resulted from the country's colonial and postcolonial histories. Against this legacy, certain historical narratives—coded by postcolonial winners—have institutionalized the erasure of ethnic minorities' autonomous histories, so as to legitimate the subordination, exclusion and oppression of minorities' call for federalism and equality.

Secondly, at this important moment, when there is a rare political opening to address the conflict through dialogue among multiple actors, Rangoon University's undergraduate history program attracted no new students for the 2016-2017 academic year.

While Rangoon University is not the only university that hosts a history department, it is the largest university in the country and its history department has monopolized historical knowledge production for half a century. That the history department has received no new students reflects a perception, not about history itself, but about historians and history education—and their significance as agents of change.

This triggered the Rangoon-based Myanmar Cultural Research Society to organize an event on Aug. 20, involving various academic historians from Rangoon University, writers and students. Participants highlighted various practices under past regimes that undermined history education's reputation.

One major outcome of half a century of government intervention in history writing was a negative reputation for the History Department's own history, for serving regimes with state-friendly historical narratives. While many academics were unhappy, the politicized history department—with sometimes state-friendly department heads—could not resist state seduction, perpetuating nationalistic historical narratives written from the dominant, central, urban and Burman points of view.

Homogenized and ethno-centric historical narratives, institutionalized at the university echelon of historical knowledge production, have paved the way for popular history writing that further eliminates minorities' own autonomous and dignified histories, as well as national history—or histories—looked at from non-dominant points of view.

A topic of discussion at the Myanmar Cultural Research Society event was the reliability of existing (popular) historical knowledge. While historians highlighted that history is a matter of debate and of certain points of view, they also suggested that the content of history be addressed so as to fix known errors that have so far been politically untouchable. They also suggested changes in the methodologies used in both teaching and inquiry.

These suggestions should be supported, both domestically and internationally, and by the government and public alike. For, addressing the country's armed conflict and realizing reconciliation require resetting the way the military and the people understand history—most importantly regarding the relationship between territory and people.

As a human geographer, I see history in terms of geographic processes, and the historical struggle over power as a struggle over territory. For power is exercised within specific territories. The power to govern people within specific territories requires that territorial boundaries be constantly redefined, as well as the relationship between people and territories.

The federalism, self-determination and autonomy that minority groups have been fighting for (however lacking in agreement over meaning and substance), and the sovereignty and unity that the military has been propounding, are narratives of struggle over territory.

On the one hand, the military claims all territories within postcolonial state boundaries as "national" territories that should be under the central government's complete control, if the "nation" is to exercise its "national sovereignty," however bogus the concept may be. On the other hand, minority groups see the lands known today as "ethnic states" as ancestral lands, over which they lost autonomy to colonizing Burmese regimes.

Regardless of the on-and-off independence of these "ethnic territories" prior to British invasion, and regardless of, for example, the existence of powerful Mon and Arakanese kingdoms that waxed and waned through time, the dominant historical narratives of Burma deny their autonomous histories.

The official national history of Burma starts with a "First Burma" established by King Anawratha, proceeding to "Second Burma" and then "Third Burma," as if these were the only historical kingdoms of Burma and were continuously extensive and powerful up till the British invasion. The histories of others are subsumed into that of generalized subordinates and rebels who betrayed the rational and mighty Burmese kings, only to be crushed brutally to maintain peace.

The problem does not end there. Minorities' ownership of ancestral land, however one defines it, goes unrecognized as well. A good example is the national anthem, which states, "We love the land because it is the heritage of our forefathers." The question is, who is "we", and whose "land" and "forefathers" are being referred to?

Because the national anthem sees the "nation" from the majority perspective, it leads those considered the dominant group to assume they own all pieces of the "imagined national territory." To them, the land from the northern top to the southern tip is unconditionally theirs— and not minorities' distinctive ancestral land. In this sense, the national anthem is an ecstasy of deception for minorities, requiring creative historical inquiry.

In short, a combination of dominant historical narratives and the national anthem effectively deny autonomous histories and the ancestral land rights of minority groups. Because of this, when minority groups call for self-determination in certain territories in the context of debates over federalism, those from the dominate position cannot understand why these minorities should want "our forefathers' land" to themselves.

But how is this discussion relevant to the peace process and national reconciliation?

It is relevant because a big chunk of the peace and national reconciliation process is about federalism, with varying forms and degrees of self-determination, which cannot be detached from the question of struggle over territories. This requires creative historical investigation into the geographic imagining of nation, territory and politics.

Current national historical narratives do not work. Known errors only make the problem worse by subordinating minority peoples, discrediting their claims to ancestral land rights, and denying their histories of relative autonomy from the dominant group.

Apart from the conceptual dimension, practical problems arise from not investing in new approaches to historical research, narratives and teaching. That is, when dominant and minority groups engage in dialogue about federalism, peace and reconciliation, the lenses through which the past is viewed will not be the same.

Supposed national heroes, such as King Anawratha, are not minority peoples' heroes—nor even the late Gen Aung San. Neither is Bagan a proud historical reference point for minorities. Rather, the First Burma (Bagan), Second Burma (Taungoo) and Third Burma (Konbaung) are understood to have destroyed minority peoples' kingdoms. Forcing minorities to express pride in these figures and kingdoms only adds salt to unhealed wounds.

But when past regimes uttered such historical narratives, minorities saw it in terms of a drive to deny them equal rights and control their lands, in the name of perpetuating national sovereignty. It was understood as business-as-usual from the junta.

However, in the new political context of the peace process, where the possibility of national reconciliation is contingent on trust developing between dominant and minority groups, the reiteration of national narratives by civilians from dominant groups only causes minorities to identify their attitude with that of the junta.

The problematic reality is that civilians, even those from the establishment, might be uttering these narratives innocently, with an intention to mutually establish a peaceful federal union. Nonetheless, national history, as the only available tool for imagining the past, traps them in false convictions, causing at best embarrassment with minority groups.

To sum up, national reconciliation requires recognizing the diverse pasts of minority groups—autonomous histories that are as dignified as that of the dominant group. Regardless of bloody histories, in which groups mutually violated each other, seeing each other's histories through more dignified, diversity-friendly and humanistic lenses is called for. As the current national narrative does not allow for this, new historical approaches are urgently needed.

This is where academic historians can, and should, play an important part in seeking new methodologies for critical research, teaching and the dissemination of historical knowledge to decision makers and the public. This is how those who study the past can contribute to today's work on peace and reconciliation.

There is a saying that one should shoulder a sword while talking about history (and religion) because debating history only ends up in conflict; some want to avoid historical questions in order to escape complicated debates. But any attempt to fix historically contingent problems by ignoring history, and most importantly the way those problems are narrated, would be a waste of time.

Dr. Sai Latt received his Ph.D. in Human Geography from Simon Fraser University in Canada. He is a Research Associate at the York Center for Asian Research at York University in Toronto. His research covers violence, securitization and displacement.

The post Peace and Reconciliation Call For New Ways of Looking Back appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Bagan Tourist Interest Bumps After Quake

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 08:07 AM PDT

Foreign tourist navigate the debris at Bagan, a day after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Burma. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Foreign tourist navigate the debris at Bagan, a day after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Burma. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Damage to almost 200 historic pagodas and temples in Bagan, after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Burma on Wednesday evening, has not dampened tourist interest in the ruins of the ancient Burmese capital.

Quite the opposite: Burmese tour operators say inquiries about Bagan tours have shot up since the earthquake, and fears of mass cancellations have not materialized, despite government orders to restrict entry to some of Bagan's most iconic sites, due to damage.

The earthquake struck at 5:04 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 kilometers west of Chauk in Magwe Division, at a depth of 84 kilometers. It was felt across Burma, and in neighboring countries. The Bagan Archaeological Department has cited damage to 187 pagodas and temples, including iconic favorites Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda and Dhamma Yazaka, and the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung.

"After the earthquake, we were worried about the old temples in Bagan, and concerned about the impact on tourism—but, amazingly, we've received many inquiries from tourists about Bagan tours," said Aung Myat Kyaw, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation.

"We can promote voluntary tourism in Bagan later, since many tourists are interested in visiting damaged areas," he said.

The temples of Bagan, dating from between the 9th and 13th centuries—when the Kingdom of Pagan ruled over much of lowland Burma—and numbering several thousand, are considered Burma's biggest tourist draw. Some 80 percent of foreign tourists in Burma visit Bagan, industry observers have said.

Daw Sabei Aung, managing director of the Nature Dreams tour company, said they had received many inquiries from tour-seekers who had learned of the damaged temples.

"I don't worry for the tourism industry after the earthquake. Bagan is even more popular right now, and there have been no cancellations of bookings from clients," she said.

She said that tour agencies could arrange alternate tour plans for Bagan, to account for the restricted access to some of Bagan's most famous temples.

"We won't get inside the compounds of the damaged temples, but we have opportunities for photo stops outside, alongside other sightseeing approaches," she said.

On Thursday, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent notice to officials in the Bagan archaeological zone not to "rush" the restoration of the damaged pagodas, and to seek technical assistance from Unesco. A team from Unesco is currently doing a damage survey, and has expressed concern over premature efforts to clear debris.

A state run newspaper on Friday quoted Culture and Religious Affairs Minister U Aung Ko saying that restoring Bagan's most iconic temples was the government's "top priority."

"It is a great source of merit to have the chance to repair and renovate Burma's cultural heritage damaged by the earthquake," the minister said.

Figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism put tourist arrivals in Burma at 4.68 million in 2015, with 5.5 million expected over 2016. However, these figures count all international arrivals as "tourists," and count day-crossings of land borders without overnight stays as "arrivals," in contravention of international norms.

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Human Rights Activist Denied Bail in Arakan State

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 07:58 AM PDT

 Khine Myo Htun faces charges for accusing the Burma Army of committing war crimes in Arakan State. (Photo: ERI)

Khine Myo Htun faces charges for accusing the Burma Army of committing war crimes in Arakan State. (Photo: ERI)

RANGOON — A court in the Arakan State capital of Sittwe has denied a bail request from prominent human rights and environmental activist Khine Myo Htun, who was arrested last month and faces charges for accusing the Burma Army of committing war crimes in the state.

Khine Myo Htun, deputy-spokesperson for the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), was arrested on July 25 in Sittwe on charges of sedition and incitement under sections 505(b) and 505(c) of Burma's Penal Code.

In April, the ALP incited controversy when it accused the Burma Army of violating the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilians for forced portering and torture.

The charges against Khine Myo Htun were filed by Lt-Col Tin Naing Tun from the Sittwe-based Regional Operations Command of the Burma Army on May 5.

The Arakan Liberation Army, the military wing of the ALP, was one of eight non-state ethnic armed groups that signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) last October with the former government.

Oo Kyaw Thein, the defendant's lawyer, told The Irrawaddy they requested bail because arresting Khine Myo Htun was the same as punishing him before the court had made a decision regarding the case.

He added that Khine Myo Htun was a representative from one of the NCA-signatory groups who attended the Union Peace Conference under the previous administration.

The court has said the case is related to the stability of the state and that the accused has failed to appear at two previous court hearings. Oo Kyaw Thein said his client was traveling at that time, prior to his arrest.

United States based advocacy organization Earth Rights International (ERI) called for all charges against Khine Myo Htun to be dropped on Friday.

"The use of Sections 505 (b) and (c) and the targeting of only Khine Myo Htun demonstrates a clear attempt to silence human rights advocacy and deter activists from exposing ongoing violations," Ka Hsaw Wa, executive director of ERI, stated in a press release.

He added that the investigation that needs to happen is one that looks into allegations that the army has committed abuses against civilians in Arakan State.

The activist is currently detained at a prison in Sittwe. His next court hearing is on September 2. If he is found guilty, he could face up to two years imprisonment and a fine.

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Massive Highway Project Displaces Karen Communities: Rights Groups

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 05:58 AM PDT

Border Guard Force groups monitor a section of the Asian Highway in July 2015. (Photo: Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy)

Border Guard Force groups monitor a section of the Asian Highway in July 2015. (Photo: Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A major highway project that will serve as a trade link between Burma and Thailand has been displacing local communities who live along the route in Karen State, southeastern Burma, say human rights organizations.

The Asian Highway project also connects the greater Mekong sub-region's east-west economic corridor, and is leading to increased militarization and the risk of armed conflict, said three ethnic Karen organizations that conducted a study in the region.

In press conference on Friday in Rangoon, Saw Alex Htoo, deputy director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), said that the areas in Karen State most affected by the project are villages in Kawkareik and Thinganyinaung regions.

"Rushing business projects and investments in conflict-torn areas that are partially controlled by several different militias leads to human rights abuses. When they [militias] fight to gain control in certain places, villagers have to flee. We are concerned about safety for civilians," said Saw Alex Htoo.

According to a statement published on Friday, more than 1,000 local villagers were forced to flee their homes because of armed conflict in the area in July of last year. Sporadic clashes between ethnic Karen armed groups and Burma Army-backed militias were also reported, contributing to instability in the region.

Local villagers who live along the highway route "are subject to the whims of the Ministry of Construction, and have been displaced and coerced into accepting unfair compensation for the loss of their lands," said the statement.

Naw Eh Thaw of Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) said at the press conference that many of the 1,000 displaced villagers who fled in July 2015 still could not return home due to the risk of landmines and continued instability.

"Villagers, including children, are the most vulnerable people when fighting breaks out. They have to flee to the jungle. There are landmines, too. We learned that they [militias] planted more landmines. So I want to raise questions for the safety of civilians," said Naw Eh Thaw.

Groups who partially control sections of the Asian Highway in Karen State include the Burma Army, the Border Guard Force (BGF) and ethnic armed organizations such as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), Karen National Union (KNU), and another smaller Karen breakaway group known as KNU/KNLA Peace Council. Groups often collect taxes and toll fees in their controlled territories.

Mann Thein Zaw of THWEE Community Development Network said, "We villagers have been suffering from conflict as we live in areas controlled by many different militias. So we want stakeholders to ensure that they will address the suffering of local people."

Rights groups said that the Asian Highway project linking Kawkareik and Thinganyinaung has been completed and a new road connecting Kawkareik and Eindu region will now be expanded. The Asian Highway projects are financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Thailand's Neighboring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA).

The rights groups also said that the ADB and NEDA disregard "international safeguard standards, causing highly destructive environmental and social impacts."

They called on the ADB and the Burmese government to properly consult with local communities and address their grievances before starting the expansion project from Kawkareik to Eindu.

In its report, titled Beautiful Word, Ugly Actions: The Asian Highway in Karen State, the rights groups reveal how various development actors and financiers contribute to massive infrastructure plans that lead to human rights violations such as forced displacement, and little or no compensation to affected communities.

"It is highly irresponsible for the ADB to finance and endorse a development project in an area where land rights are not clearly defined, and where armed clashes are liable to break out at any time," according to the statement.

They also called on the Burmese government, its Ministry of Construction, and the ADB to "halt the dispossession of people's lands and suspend construction activities in an active conflict zone."

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Mon Groups Pledge to Block Coal Power Plant

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 04:44 AM PDT

 Ethnic Mon leaders are pictured on stage at the three-day Mon National Conference in Taung Pauk, Karen State. (Photo: Ah Hr / Facebook)

Ethnic Mon leaders are pictured on stage at the three-day Mon National Conference in Taung Pauk, Karen State. (Photo: Ah Hr / Facebook)

One of the resolutions which came out of the three-day Mon National Conference has been to stand against the use of a coal power plant by a cement company in Mon State's Kyaikmayaw Township.

Mawlamyine Cement Limited (MCL) has moved forward with plans to power a cement factory with coal, despite objections from local ethnic Mon in the area concerned with pollution and the degradation of water sources.

Held in the Taung Pauk area of Karen State, 446 representatives from civil society, political parties, and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) attended the eighth Mon National Conference from Aug. 22-24. The main issue of discussion was that of federalism, in preparation for the Union Peace Conference beginning on Aug. 31, which the NMSP is slated to attend.

"We intended to form one voice from this three-day meeting. This will show how we have unity, and our ideas will support upcoming 21st Century Panglong conference, which intends to build a federal system in the country," said Nai Win Hla, an executive member of the NMSP, on the group's preparation for the peace conference.

Yet the issue of the coal plant also took precedence at the event, as representatives promised to collectively oppose the action by MCL. Rights activists expressed concern about the effect of coal power on the local community, and said that MCL "should find another way" to power their cement factory.

"We will not stop their job, or their transport of cement," said Nai Win Hla. "We will block their transportation of coal. We know how they transport their coal—they use ships."

The MCL factory is a subsidiary of the Siam Cement Group, based in Thailand, and is expected to produce 1.8 million tonnes of cement annually. It is located near the Zami River, which serves as a source of water for at least five villages nearby.

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On the Border in Mae Sot

Posted: 26 Aug 2016 04:32 AM PDT

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The Thai border town of Mae Sot has been a haven for Burma's political dissidents and exiles for over two decades. Since Burma began undergoing a democratic transition in 2010, an increasing number of individuals politically exiled to Mae Sot  have cautiously returned to their motherland. The town's Burmese community continues to host visitors, merchants, and, largely, migrant workers—of whom there are an estimated 3 million from Burma in Thailand, seeking work and educational opportunities that remain difficult to come by particularly in rural parts of their homeland. Although they are not recognized as refugees, of this population, an untold number have also been displaced by Burma's ongoing conflict.

Meanwhile, the Thai government is taking measures to set up a special economic zone in Mae Sot—dubbed the "western exit economic hub" of Thailand. So far, a highway is under construction between Tak—the capital of Tak District—and Mae Sot. Another highway linking Myawaddy and Kawkareik in Burma's Karen State has already been constructed. Plans are also underway to build a second "friendship bridge" connecting the two countries.

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