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Issue No.124


Readers' Front
Dear readers,

We invite comments and suggestions on improvements to Kaowao newsletter. With your help, we hope that Kaowao News will continue to grow to serve better the needs of those seeking social justice in Burma . And we hope that it will become an important forum for discussion and debate and help readers to keep abreast of issues and news. We reserve the right to edit and reject articles without prior notification. You can use a pseudonym but we encourage you to include your full name and address.

Regards,

Editor
Kaowao News
kaowao@hotmail.com, www.kaowao.org


Mon Unity League’s New Strategy: broadening participation of civil society
(Kaowao: March 5, 2007)

This month marks a significant milestone in the Mon democratic movement’s partnership with the Mon Unity League, an umbrella organization of Mon people. The League has transformed its strategy to focus more on mobilizing civil society rather than taking a political stand in pressuring the Burmese government for democratic change.

Nai Sunthorn Sripanngern, the newly elected President, explained, “we will take the soft approach, we will continue to apply political pressure, but now we have evolved from being a consultative body to becoming more proactive in nature; it is not what we represent, but what we can do on the ground. Civil society is an ongoing process involving many actors, this will have a profound impact on strengthening our commitment to ensure our rights.”

However, some see the reform as a disappointment. “The work of the MUL over the past ten years was recognized by the international community, including such organizations as the UN and UNPO. The MUL served as the voice for the Mon people and actively engaged in an international campaign for democracy after the New Mon State Party reached a cease-fire,” said Nai Ong Sorn.

“We will continue using the name MUL but it is necessary to avoid overlap among the Mon organization since the Mon Affairs Union (MAU) emerged, we need to give more public space for another umbrella organization to be more effective,” said Sunthorn.

On February 17-18, representatives of the MUL met for the 5th Conference in Sangkhlaburi, a border town on the Thai-Burma border. The gathering, composed of former refugees, activists, community leaders and displaced peoples, reviewed the structure of the umbrella organization and finally agreed to change its structure as an NGO or institution with a broader public outreach.

The structure of MUL has shifted to an institution from a decentralized umbrella organization. However, the functioning of the group is composed of several local initiatives incorporating more of a global outlook working on such programs as Health, Education, Political Advocacy, Research and Civil Society's Capacities in order to support various communities and civil society organizations of the Mon people.

The MUL meeting elected Advisory Board comprised of former MUL leaders and an Executive Management Board. The MUL’s programs is now headed by Nai Yeup, Director. The Executive Management Board is governed by Sunthorn Siripanngern, Dr. Ms Mon Htaw, Nai Kasauh Mon, Nai Ong Banjun and Nai Layeh Rot.
 


Sook Gloin: Rebel leader goes into hiding
(Kaowao: March 5, 2007)

The whereabouts of Mon guerrilla, Sook Gloin (long hair), has become a topic of concern among local people in southern Ye who are keeping a lookout for the armed guerrilla who disappeared from the area last month.

“Many people are concerned about him. They worry he might be killed or injured in fighting. He might also be charged by his group for a robbery that took place in Pai Bee village,” said a Buddhist monk from Ye.

Civilians in southern Ye and Yebyu suffer from various forms of suppression by the Burma Army accusing them of supporting the rebel after a number of ambush attacks on the Burma military garrisons by his Mon armed group.

“This area has become increasingly targeted by many armed groups for taxation. The Mon guerrilla group has also committed some crimes and rumor has it that Sook Gloin was punished or reprimanded by his group for some crimes. But at this point we cannot confirm what happened,” said Nai Lin, a villager from Khawzar Township.

Sook Gloin and Chan Dein succeeded their positions with remaining Mon guerrillas after Nai Hloin and Nai Bin left the group. The Mon armed group frequently uses ambush tactics and guerrilla warfare in southern Ye and Yebyu area.

Mon human rights activists say that grave human rights violations by the Burmese Army have intensified with many villagers abandoning the area to go live elsewhere. The BA often harasses local people by forcing them to disclose the whereabouts of rebel groups in the area.

“Even though the guerrilla group has committed petty crimes the villagers still support them, because we are unhappy with human rights abuses by the Burmese Army," said another villager from southern Ye, Mon State.

After the New Mon State Party reached a cease-fire agreement with the military junta in 1995, Nai Hloin split from the party to resume fighting against the Burma Army.
 


Mon Women’s Day celebrated in honor of a Queen
(Kaowao: March 2, 2007)

A group of women in the rural area celebrated modestly Mon Women’s Day on February 28 in recognition of one of Burma’s great Mon Queens, Shin Saw Pu, representing one of Southeast Asia’s most well known royal dynasties.

According to Ms. Ong Mon Chan of Mon Women’s Organization of Canada, the Mon women in Canada issued a joint statement with the Mon Women Association of America. The two organizations jointly issued a statement by claiming that despite the cease-fire agreement between the New Mon State Party and the military junta, militarization and grave violation of human rights continue to occur in the area. They also urged the international community to pressure the military regime for a tripartite dialogue and push for the release of political prisoners including Nai Yekha and Nai Chem Gakao.

“Despite continuing violence against Mon women in Burma, our voice is not heard. It is pity that we haven’t held a larger ceremony because of less attention by the community, but we will arrange a more commemorative event this coming April,” said Ms. Mon Chan.

“Women’s issues in the community are not getting much attention here. Even though, women work hard in the community, many men think their role is not necessary and they forget about us,” said Mi Mreh Moh, a women activist at Waengka village.

Mon Women’s Day this year was held on February 28, the birthday of a famous Mon Queen, Mi Jaobu or Banya Thaw (Shin Saw Pu) sometimes referred to as “the Supreme Female King” in ancient texts and who ruled Hongsawatoi in the fifteenth century and whose lineage was both from the Mon and Burmese dynasties. At that time she ushered in a new, and it would be the last, great era of Mon civilization until its fall in 1757 to the Burman King, Alaungpaya.
 



Mon
State: Rebel demands end to human rights violations
(Kaowao: February 20, 2007)

Long time guerrilla fighter, Nai Hloin vows to continue fighting against the Burman government forces that commit human rights violation in Mon State.

In spite of his group facing a large and ruthless army, 57-year-old Nai Hloin said, “though I have left the armed group in Mon State, human rights violations continue in southern Ye, my compatriots are occasionally carrying out guerrilla attacks against the Burma Army.”

In an interview with a Kaowao reporter, Nai Hloin says he wants to reach out to the public to support him in his campaign and while talking to a group of supporters recently he urged the public to join him.  “We must enlarge our hit and run attack force,” he said as he walked toward the crowd with a small limp.

“The BA has expanded its troops into our area.  We cannot wage a position war, our tactic is to disturb the Burma Army with mobile attacks, hit and run.  I want to retire and live a peaceful life but I can’t stop the movement since I see many of my people including my relatives being tortured by them (BA),” said the long time fighter.

After he was wounded in 2005 he left his group to seek asylum and medical attention in Thailand with the help of UNHCR office.

About 50 guerrillas are operating sparsely throughout the area and are well supported by Mon community.  The Burma Army regularly tortures villagers from Southern Ye after accusing them of supporting the Mon armed groups.  Local farmers are restricted to work on their farms and have to obtain the authority's permission to go to their plantation and return home early in the evening.

In December last year, several women were rounded up and tortured by Infantry Battalion No. 31 of the Burmese Army in retaliation for an ambush attack by a Mon guerrilla group during a military operation in southern Ye, Mon State.

After the New Mon State Party reached a cease-fire agreement with the military junta in 1995, Nai Hloin split from the party to take up arms against the Burma Army.  The two brothers, Nai Hloin and Nai Bin were active until early 2005 before they sought a safe haven in Thailand due to the Burma Army’s brutal offensive in the area.


6oth MND in ThailandIn 60th Year, Mon National Day attracts thousands
Kaowao: February 8, 2007

Bangkok – The 60th anniversary of the Mon National Day was celebrated around the world, which drew many thousands of participants.

Wat Siri Molkorn, a Mon temple in Maharchai, Thailand, hosted about 6000 Mons with senior abbots, Thai local authorities, and representatives from the Mon Unity League, New Mon State Party and Harn Yawnghwe, the son of Sao Shwe Thaike, the last hereditary ruler of the Shan principality of Yawnghwe and the first president of the Republic of the Union of Burma.

"It is our greatest day where Thai Mons, migrant Mons and overseas Mon meet together and donate food, money and services.  Even though, we cannot freely celebrate our national day back home, this event grows stronger each year here and in other parts of the world,” said Nai Nerada, a Buddhist monk from Siri Molkorn Temple who organized the event.

During the nights of February 1st and 2nd the biggest Mon music stars led by Hongsar Marn, Ramarn and Joey Marn entertained the crowd.

Other Similar events and activities were held at Wat Klong Jet, Wat Jedi Thong with Mon culture troupes, sport’s competition, improvised music, and public assembly.

Organized by Mon National Democratic Front (liberated area), the MND was held at the China Community Hall in Kulua Lumpur, Malaysia with about 1500 people attending.  Mon MP, Nai Thaung Shein was among the activists and refugees present.

Inside Burma, the MND was largely celebrated at Paneng Pein near the headquarters of the NMSP with over two thousand attendants and NMSP leaders.  Other celebrations took place at districts and townships of NMSP administration offices with local talent entertaining the guests.  In Rangoon and Pegu, the celebration was a modest affair held inside the monasteries.

The Mon National Day is largely celebrated in Burma in the areas dominated by Mon inhabitants in Mon State, Karen State, Rangoon, and Pegu.  The celebration has now expanded across Asia, Europe, Australia and North America where Mon communities live and enjoy some freedom in third countries.
 


Organizational Change, Future Direction and Strategic Planning
(By Thiha Thura)

All Mon around the world will be equally pleased to hear the good news of the successful completion of the 5th Conference of the MUL. In that conference, delegates both at home and abroad have passionately discussed the future directions of the MUL in line with the current socio-political situation in Monland, in Burma and in the world. Based on the discussion, the MUL has revised its strategy and accordingly reformed and restructure its organization.

In deed, all Mon people will be impressed and heartened by the right and appropriate approach taken by the MUL to re-strategise, reform and realign its future direction relevant to overall Mon national strategy. In fact, all key players in Mon politics such as the NMSP, the MNDF, the MUL and Overseas Mon Organizations should realign its future direction and strategy in line with the Mon national strategy. In Organizational Behaviour (OB) and organizational management, realigning of departmental strategy in line will overall organization's strategy is vitally important. Without realigning and in alignment with the overall strategy , it is like a vehicle out of alignment, all wheels are not in alignment and, as a result it cannot drive as fast as it should be. Therefore, for an organization to function well and to achieve its goals, it should reform, realign its strategy and make appropria te changes in the organization.

Organizational change is, in fact, one of the essential approach in OB and Organizational Management. Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable. In our internal and external environment, change is constantly taking place. Therefore, the organization that is flexible and adaptive to change will succeed and , the organization that is rigid and resistant to change will certainly fail. In Darwin's Evolution theory, it is not the strongest and the fittest creature that survive, rather it is the one that is adaptive to changes in environment such as the weather, climate and the like is survived. He showed the evidence of Dinosaur. Dinosaurs were the strongest and fittest animals but it is now extinct (no longer exist) because it failed to adapt to changes in the environment. In our Mon also we have a very famous Mon saying " Akone Akone, Akar Akar" , and " Karla , Day Sa" etc."Karla , Day Sa" in our Mon saying is in deed the same as situation analysis in terms of the time and the place. So I am also very impressed with the appropriate and the right approach of the MUL in reforming and restructuring its organization to fit will with the overall situation.

As a result, it is encourage that the MUL and all Mon organizations to maintain and utilize organizational change. If the MUL and all of our Key players in Mon politics such as the NMSP , the MNDF and the Overseas Mon organizations all can effective manage the organizational change, their contributions to our Mon will greatly improve and our indented ultimate goal of national liberation and national sovereignty cannot be far away. Nowadays, organizations taking part in Burma politics or political stage such as the ENC (Ethnic Nationalities Council) and NCUG (The National Council of the Union of Burma) are holding strategic meeting to align their strategies and unitedly work toward the emergence of democracy in Burma. They are convinced that unity among themselves and re-alighment of their strategies in line with overall strategy is deadly important.

Therefore, in our Mon all our Mon key players in Mon politics such as the MUL, the NMSP, MNDF and the Overseas Mon organizations are earnestly encouraged to take a proactive approach to changes and at all time and revise and realign their strategy in line with overall Mon national strategy. If all of our strategies and our future directions are aligned together, the victory of our national liberation and sovereignty is just around the corner, waiting all of us to to take it.


What does “Union Day” mean to Burma Ethnic Minorities?
By Nehginpao Kipgen

Burma’s 60th Union Day was celebrated inside and outside of the country, but many people question why the event is celebrated at all, since the ideals expressed in the Panglong agreement have never been achieved.

Union Day history starts at Panglong in southern Shan State on February 12, 1947, when 23 representatives from the Burman government, Chin Hills, Kachin Hills and Shan States signed an agreement in the presence of representatives from the executive council of the governor of Burma, to form an interim government.*

The emergence of Union Day initially, though, did not include all the ethnic nationalities of present day Burma, yet it has served as a threshold for a unified Burma. The agreement was aimed at establishing a federal Burma on the basis of socio-political equality and self-determination for all ethnic nationalities.

Had not Aung San promised political equality and self-determination to ethnic minority groups, the Union of Burma might have never been born.

During the drafting the Union of Burma’s constitution, hopes were abruptly shattered with the assassination of Aung San, along with six of executive councilors on July 19, 1947. Aung San was the architect of the Panglong Agreement, and his departure dashed the dream of having a federal government: the constitution was hastily created on the model of a quasi-federal organization, categorically downplaying the visions of the Panglong signatories. This mischievous turn of events has become a source of lingering distrust between the Burman government and ethnic minorities of today.

With the adoption of the amended constitution on September 24, 1947, ethnic minority groups realized that the quasi-federal constitution did not guarantee their equality of rights and self-determination, as agreed upon at Panglong. Subsequently, the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, after a series of consultations and meetings amongst themselves and with Burman government leaders, demanded changes to the 1947 constitution to include the principles of political equality and self-determination. Article X of the 1947 constitution states: “every State shall have the right to secede from the Union….”

Partly due to the discontent of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities during 1951 to 1961, the civilian government was confronted with many constitutional challenges. At the same time, there was a leadership crisis within the ruling Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League—the party splitting into two factions—AFPFL-clean and AFPFL-stable in May 1958.

Consequently, U Nu, the prime minister, asked the army chief, Ne Win, to form a caretaker government and conduct general elections. During the 1960 election, U Nu’s AFPFL-clean faction returned to power. Sticking to their demands, leaders of ethnic minorities demanded discussions with Prime Minister U Nu about amendments to the constitution. This demand was reasserted at a conference when the Ethnic States Unity and Solidarity Organization convened in 1961.

Construing the political maneuver as a threat to the integration of the country based on a federal model, Ne Win seized power by military coup on March 2, 1962, which led to the arrest of U Nu and other leaders, including Sao Shwe Thaike, the first president of independent Burma.

The non-Burman ethnic nationalities largely saw the military regime as the Burman government. Having little hope for any peaceful agreement with a military-dominated government, many ethnic minority groups resorted to armed struggle.

Under Ne Win’s Revolutionary Council government, the 1947 constitution was replaced by the 1974 constitution which stressed a unitary federal form of government. On September 18, 1988, the military-led government transformed itself into the State Law and Order Restoration Council and then to the State Peace and Development Council on November 15. 1997. The name is expected to change again the ongoing process of the military regime’s seven steps toward a “disciplined democracy.”

In remarks on the 60th anniversary of Union Day, SPDC chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, said: “Certain powerful countries desirous of gaining dominance over the Union of Myanmar are stirring up racial conflicts to break up national unity and cause the recurrence of armed conflicts."

Our view, however, is that successive Burman military governments have dominated the ethnically diverse country with very little tolerance and absolute, dictatorial control.

Despite the observation of Union Day for the past 60 years, the true spirit of the day has never been honored by the Burman government: guaranteeing the ethno-political equality and self-determination of ethnic nationalities.

This does not, however, give a clean chit to secessionism, but rather stresses the intrinsic importance of establishing a unified Burma under a federal system. History tells us that prior to the British conquest and the subsequent Panglong Agreement, all nationalities of present day Burma had already established themselves, in one organizational form or another.

As long as the present and future leaders of Burma fail to recognize the principles of the Panglong Agreement, the true spirit of Union Day will never be realized.

Therefore, every nationality in the Union of Burma has the right to claim or proclaim its pre-independence status.

This fact needs to remain as a focal point of all political stakeholders, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliations. The emergence of a unified and peaceful country rests on the shoulders of all the peoples of Burma. To achieve political equality and self-determination, all ethnic groups must work together.

*[Burman representative: Aung San; Chin representatives: U Hlur Hmung, U Thawng Za Khup, U Kio Mang; Kachin representatives: Sinwa Nawng, Zau Rip, Dinra Tang, Zau La, Zau Lawn, Labang Grong; Shan representatives: Tawnpeng, Yawnghwei, North Hsenwi, Laika, Mong Pawn, Hsamonghkam and representatives of Pawnglawng, Tin E, Kya Bu, Sao Yapa Hpa, Htun Myint, Hkun Saw, Hkun Htee.]
 


Reflection On A Glorious Past and Aspiration for A Prosperous Future
(By Siri Mon Chan)

As the curtain comes down on another Mon National Day, I sit here in Canada where the rivers freeze over in the middle of the winter. The temperature outside has plummeted and the bitterly cold arctic air is bearing down on the western prairies once again. I have participated in Mon National Day at different stages in my life: as young boy in my home village; as a lover while a student in university; as a soldier in a military uniform; as a revolutionist in the deep jungle; and now as a Mon activist in exile in a western country. Each stage provides a vastly different perspective of a place in time and space.

The past 10 years has been an amazing journey for me and I am able to reflect on my good fortune living in a free country. At this time of the year, I enjoy rediscovering the long ancient history of the Mon and their contributions to humanity and learn of a people who had once been at the forefront of technology and civilization in Southeast Asia. Our people in the past and present have been regarded as a ‘people of high culture and peace’, who formed strong communities that ‘fostered social order and prosperity’ as acknowledged in The Mons: A Civilization of Southeast Asia, a book by Mon scholar, Dr. Emmanuel Guillon.

Hongsawatoi was one such kingdom founded in 573 A.D. It was a prosperous, independent city, famous throughout its history in lower Burma and was once known as Pegu. It was for many centuries a regional hub of cultural and religious activity and was a major trading port for princes and merchants alike. The Mon invested a lot of energy and time learning the ancient Pali and Sanskrit text of Buddhism and it is in this famous city that skilled scribes developed our writing system within the monastic community. Mon farmers developed irrigation in the Salween delta, tradespeople refined metallurgy and other groups in the region eagerly sought after these skills. Through the centuries this city was transformed over time and established diplomatic relations with all nations near and far, conducted free and fair world trade with Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, China, France, England, Portugal, Spain and the Middle East. We had long enjoyed a peaceful and cordial relationship in trade and foreign affairs with other countries in the world.

In school in Mon State we are taught of the great deeds of kings and queens that ruled over lower Burma and how they promoted such Buddhist concepts of anatta, the non-Ego, the absence of self, or anicca, impermanence. One can glimpse this way of thinking in the building of stupas, monasteries and temples that attest to peaceful coexistence of our relations with other peoples.

I close my eyes and imagine what life must have been like for our people who lived with peace, dignity and prosperity, a stark contrast to our way of life now living under the repressive Burmese regime. Hongsawatoi was brutally attacked and occupied by the Burmans in 1757 AD. Thousands were driven away to escape certain death, while others constrained by poverty or other obstacles endured the persecution.

We have enjoyed freedom at most points in our history and we will again. I am sure of it.  While our far-sighted Mon rulers were determined to develop our Mon kingdom in terms of economic, social and political conditions, we did not fail to pay attention to mutual and peaceful co-existence with other nations and countries in the world.

Unity is the most important precondition for us to regain our dignity and sovereignty. We have a well-established historical background, a well-developed civilization, our resources both in terms of human and natural resources and our state’s infrastructures will support a strong civil society, local governance and an administrative system. We urgently and desperately have to unite to reach our ultimate goal of national liberation.


Violence used to disrupt Mon national day at Three Pagodas Pass
(Kaowao: February 3, 2007)

Mon National Day celebration at the Three Pagodas Pass border was cancelled after a grenade was thrown into the celebration ground yesterday.

Nai Sark, an organizer of the MND said the grenade attack by unknown men injured two persons in the compound area of Taing Tayar or Dayaing Klom Mon Monastery where the celebration was held on the Thai-Burma border town.

“No group claimed responsibility of the attack but it was planned to dampen our celebration.  The MND celebration has gained wider public support and the event that night drew thousands of people to the area.  We are well organized and this may have riled up other rival groups to disrupt the event,” said the organizer of the MND.

Mon National Day’s assembly successful took place in the morning and about three thousand Mon and other ethnic civilians joined in the celebration.  The entertainment had planned to host a beauty contest and a cultural performance during evening, but was cancelled due to the bomb attack.

The attackers believed to be members of an armed group, shot back at the New Mon State Party’s security unit.  Following the attack, the security unit followed the men who fled away on motorcycles and fired shots at the NMSP security officer.

Nai Tun Lwin, an officer of the NMSP said the attack occurred during the exchange of the NMSP troops about 7:30 pm before the start of events; otherwise there were more serious casualties.  Two men were detained for further investigation.


Candlelight a factor behind school fire
(Kaowao: February 2, 2007)

A fire that destroyed a Mon community girls’ school on February 2nd could have been caused by a burning candle during the Mon National Day celebration at Nyisar Panang Pein village.

“Nobody got hurt because all the girls were attending the Mon National Day parade organized by the New Mon State Party, but all school supplies and personal belongings (books and clothes) were destroyed,” said Nai Aikom, officer of MNEC.

The school and most of the buildings are made of bamboo and thatch and quickly caught fire burning down the surrounding buildings including a kitchen and a warehouse.

The girls’ school hosted about 70 girls and 4 female teachers, the damage from the fire is estimated to be about 10 million Kyats.

The Nyisar Mon National High School under the supervision of MNEC was built with the help of NMSP and the local community.  Many students from the surrounding area of Mon State lived there and attended the boarding school.

"All my books and clothes are gone, the only thing I have left is my costume for the MND, the others are in the same boat," said Ms. Nyan Mon, a Nyisar student.

In Mon State, southern Burma, most rural homes and buildings are roofed with palm leaf and are built of woven bamboo and bamboo poles, with many buildings in close proximity making it a risk of a fire hazard. The community has no modern emergency fire equipment on hand in case of a fire.

Mon National Education Committee is seeking help to rebuild the school and will need new school supplies for the girls, including desks, blackboards, books, food, blankets and clothes.

Donors can contact the MNEC at 034 595 336 or Mon Refugee Committee at 034 595 080.


Worldwide, Mon prepare for Mon National Day
Kaowao: January 27, 2007

Bangkok
– Organizers of Mon National Day committees in their hometown locations are preparing to mark the 60th anniversary of Mon National Day which will fall on February 2nd, 2007.

As the auspicious annual celebration draws near, the Mon National Day Committees have been working hard for the event that will draw in thousands from cities to villages.

According to Mon Unity League based in Bangkok, the Mon migrant communities are preparing to celebrate in several locations in Samutsarkhorn, Pathomthani and Lopburi of central Thailand.

The Thai-Mon community will host a modest festivity at Ban Kan Mak Village in Muang District of Lopburi while the majority of migrant workers will gather at Sirimonkun Temple with calm water canal access for participants on the Thachin River near Mahachai. The celebrations will allow speakers to express themselves in the morning and entertainment will take place in the evening at Maharchai and Klong Jet, near Bangkok.

Jointly hosted by Mon Canadian Society, Mon Women Organization and Mon Buddhist Temple (Canada) the Mon National Day in Calgary took place today from 6:00 p.m to midnight at Penbrooke Community Hall. Placing a high value on family, these events featured cultural performances by family members, Mon cuisine and speeches from community leaders.

“It is a great opportunity for us, to welcome Canadians and friends in honoring our heritage”, said Ms. Anjalii Mon, Chairperson of the event.

The Mon National Day is largely celebrated back home in Burma in the areas dominated by Mon inhabitants in Mon State , Karen State , Rangoon and Pegu.  This year’s celebration has grown in Mon immigrant communities across Asia, Europe, Australia and North America where Mon live and enjoy some freedom.

Overseas Mon communities are preparing for a joint statement in four languages (Mon, English, Thai and Burmese).  At this time 13 Mon organizations from North America, Europe and Asia Pacific signed to join in.


Opinion
What lies ahead for Burma 's cease-fires
Ashley South

Between 1989 and 1995, 20-plus armed ethnic groups agreed cease-fires with the Burmese military government. This year, these agreements are likely to come under renewed pressure.

Since the fall of ex-prime minister Khin Nyunt in October 2004, the situation for most cease-fire groups has deteriorated, as they no longer have access to the centre of power in Burma .  The situation is particularly difficult for groups such as the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which have publicly challenged the government - including by endorsing Burma 's inclusion on the UN Security Council agenda.

Since it reconvened in 2004, 28 cease-fire groups have sent over one hundred delegates to the National Convention - although most realise that this process is designed to perpetuate and institutionalise military rule. The NMSP, KIO and several other cease-fire groups have issued demands regarding the type of (broadly federal) constitution they would like to see emerging from the convention.  In doing so they have sketched the outlines of what a future political settlement to "the ethnic question" in Burma might look like. Although most of their demands have been rejected by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), in expressing their aspirations the cease-fire groups have raised the political profile of Burma 's ethnic nationalities.

With the National Convention drawing to a close, it seems likely that the military government will turn its attention to the cease-fire groups. With arrangements for a new constitution in place, the government will likely seek to "regularise" their situation, either by incorporating the cease-fire groups into state command-and-control structures, as local militias, or by forcing them to disarm - as occurred with two groups in Shan State in 2004.

Some organisations may be willing to settle for a degree of autonomy and restricted political participation under the new constitution, which designates six sub-provincial administrations. According to this view, any constitution is better than continued direct rule by the military: although the space available to ethnic nationality and other parties under the new constitution will be very limited, it will at least allow them to participate in above-ground politics, from "within the legal fold". However, other cease-fire groups (including the NMSP) have indicated that they will refuse to hand over their weapons until a comprehensive political settlement is reached.

Probably, Tatmadaw Regional Commanders will be given scope to pick-off non-compliant cease-fire groups, as the opportunity arises. Although the regime may hope to gain some international credit by taking on organisations associated with the drugs trade, the most powerful ethnic armies, such as the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), will probably be left until last. Such considerations leave militarily weaker cease-fire groups, such as the NMSP, looking vulnerable.

The cease-fires have resulted in a mixed picture of positive and negative developments. Problems associated with the cease-fires are well documented, and include the Tatmadaw expansion into previously contested zones, accompanied by widespread land confiscation to build new army bases. Also, land has been confiscated in the context of "development projects", and under the Tatmadaw's self-support policy. Another problem associated with the cease-fires is the continuing incidence of forced labour and other rights abuses in areas adjacent to cease-fire zones. Most assessments of the cease-fires are produced by opposition groups and supporters. These generally underestimate positive developments, focusing instead on the many ongoing problems in these troubled regions. The positive aspects of the cease-fire are less widely discussed, and tend to focus as much on process, as on the substance of short-middle term results. Positive developments include a relative decrease in the most serious forms of human rights abuse, in those areas where cease-fires have held.

Efforts to rehabilitate and resettle displaced populations and reconstruct communities have also been a result of the cease-fires. The post-cease-fire re-emergence of civil society networks is among the most significant, but underappreciated, aspects of the social and political situation in Burma over the past decade. For example, local communities have supported programmes such as the Mon language and culture courses, conducted over the school summer holidays in over one hundred monasteries across lower Burma.

In response to criticism from the ethnic communities they seek to represent, a few cease-fire groups have grappled with internal reform. The NMSP and KIO in particular have demonstrated a degree of democratic political culture, reflecting their 20 years of participation in pro-democracy alliances, such as the National Democratic Front and Democratic Alliance of Burma.

Policy-making within NMSP and KIO leadership circles usually involves a fair degree of debate and disagreement - which has sometimes resulted in damaging schisms and splits. Both the NMSP and KIO deserve credit for eliciting public participation in decision-making, by consulting with villagers, religious and civil society leaders from their communities, regarding whether and how to engage with the military government.

The NMSP is in a particularly difficult position. The three small blocks of territory granted to the party under the June 1995 cease-fire agreement are vulnerable to Tatmadaw incursion.  Neighbouring Thailand , whose security establishment helped to push the NMSP into the cease-fire, is unlikely to be sympathetic to any resumption of armed conflict in Mon areas. The NMSP has been the most outspoken of the cease-fire groups. Indeed, since December 2005, the party has refused to endorse the National Convention, sending only a small team of "observers" to the forum. Although some activists might like the party to go further in its defiance of the government, the NMSP probably can do little more without definitively breaking the cease-fire - and bringing humanitarian disaster to Mon State.

The cease-fire groups will soon have to decide whether or not to participate in the restricted political space outlined in SPDC's new constitution. In part, such decisions will depend on the position of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. The NMSP's attempt to "sit on the fence" will not be tenable for much longer. The party has been dealt a weak hand of cards - but has so far played them pretty well (sometimes as much by luck as judgement). While retaining relations with the government, the NMSP is the only cease-fire group that still enjoys credibility within opposition circles (including most exile groups), and remains in contact with its old insurgent allies.

In 2007 the cease-fire groups are likely to come under renewed pressure from the SPDC.  However it responds, the NMSP deserves credit for having got this far, while still preserving its basic integrity.

Ashley South
Bangkok
(The Nation:  08-01-07)

Ashley South is an independent writer and consultant, working on humanitarian issues and ethnic politics in Burma . He is the author of, "Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma : The Golden Sheldrake" (RoutledgeCurzon 2005).


Announcement
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Kaowao Newsgroup is looking for a volunteer English teacher who will teach our team members and local Mon community.

We will provide accommodation and food during the stay. The volunteer is encouraged to adjust to the new life in the refugee and migrant community. For further information, please contact
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Masters of Human Rights at Mahidol University, Bangkok

The Office of Human Rights Studies and Social Development (OHRSD) is located at Mahidol University, Bangkok. It was established in 1996 by Mahidol University with the aims of providing education and research opportunities in the area of human rights. The OHRSD runs a Graduate Program in Human Rights, leading to a Masters of Human Rights and Social Development, and a number of research and other activities. Soon (2005) it will introduce an International PhD course in Human Rights and Peace Studies, and a Masters of Human Rights in Thai language.

The Masters of Human Rights and Social Development is the only Masters human rights program offered in the South East Asian region. It attracts students from around the world, and students from about 20 countries have graduated or are completing their research.

Human rights are fundamental and are the birthright of all humans. These rights, however, must be gained through struggle. Regardless of the universality of international declarations and covenants, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other recent human rights instruments, the full observance of human rights is not yet guaranteed to all human beings. The ultimate aim of these declarations cannot be achieved until people become aware of their rights as humans.

The Office of Human Rights Studies and Social Development (OHRSD) aims to develop the ways and means by which human rights are transformed into social and political realities at the community, national and international levels. It does so primarily through educating human rights practitioners, but also through outreach programs to community and international organizations, and conducting cutting edge research on issues of crucial importance to human rights.

The OHRSD is committed to developing education programs which are contemporary and relevant to the students and their social contexts. Learning in the program is highly participatory and allows a space for the students to learn, engage with issues, and take an integral part in developing their own skills and knowledge.

The OHRSD supports research which contributes to the greater understanding and increasing reach of human rights to all levels and groups in society. Research supported by the program aims to both develop academic knowledge of critical concern to human rights, and provide practical applications of human rights activities in a wide diversity of fields.

The OHRSD is an active component of the human rights network of organizations from the grassroots level, to the national and international level. The OHRSD works with NGOs, government offices, and regional groups who are active in the field of human rights. It facilitates communication between students, researchers, academics, civil society and practitioners. It also works in cooperation with many organisations who share the same goals of promoting human rights and contributing to society.

Office of Human Rights Studies and Social Development
Faculty of Graduate Studies
Mahidol University
Salaya Campus
Nakhon Pathom, 73170
Bangkok, Thailand

Telephone: +66 2 441 4125, ext 400, 401
Fax: +66 2 441 94 27
Email:
admin@humanrights-mu.org, ohrsd@yahoo.com

For any Burmese people who are interested in studying for a Masters of
Human Rights at Mahidol University, Bangkok, you can apply for a scholarship through the Open Society Institute.

The OSI scholarship due date is 15 March, 2007.
The applications for the Masters are due 31 March.

Please, if you are interested in applying to study this course, contact
the Office of Human Rights Studies as soon as possible, and we can work
with you in sending in your application.

For further information on the masters of Human Rights, visit our web
page:
http://www.humanrights-mu.org/
For further information on the scholarships for OSI visit their
website:
http://www.soros.org/initiatives/scholarship/focus_areas/supplementary_burma

Sincerely,

Mike Hayes
Dr Mike Hayes
Office of Human Rights Studies and Social Development
Faculty of Graduate Studies, Mahidol University
Salaya, Nakorn Pathom
Thailand 73170
Tel: 66-2-4414125 ext 400, 401
Fax: 66-2-4419427
Email: admin@humanrights-mu.org
Webpage: www.humanrights-mu.org



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