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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

KAOWAO NEWS NO. 104

Newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma
February 2 - 10, 2006

Readers’ front

SPDC bullies teacher and Mon School Students

Village extortion as rural development

Human rights abuses as result of gas pipeline explosion in Mon State

Speaking Mon Contest reflects ancient heritage

MRC, clear commitment to achieving Mon Independence

59th Mon National Day, Canberra (Australia)

SPDC cause great economic hardship of Mon village

Hopes and Tears of Burma: Kanbawza Win

Pro-democracy movement should prepare for the post-regime change era


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


SPDC bullies teacher and Mon school students
(Kaowao, February 10, 2006)

Sangkhalaburi -- Mon National School students in southern Mon State were forced to work as laborers, while the local State Peace and Development Council commander scolded the teacher after she complained she would have to stop the classes, said the teacher, Ms. Mi Wa to a Kaowao reporter.

“The commander and his troops came to my house and threatened me not to teach at the Mon National school, instead they want me to teach at their (SPDC) school and offered me three times the salary I make now,” said Ms. Wa who just arrived at the Thai-Burma border four days ago after she fled from the area.

Ms Wa teaches English, Mon, and Burmese and, earns 5000 kyats (6 US); an average soldier makes 6000 kyats per month as stipend.

“He said bluntly to answer his question on whether I will teach at Mon National school or at the SPDC government school.  I couldn’t make such a decision and suggested to him (SPDC commander) to discuss the matter with the higher officials of the education department, not with me,” said the teacher who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Ms. Wa said her students in Khao Jear (Khaw Zar in Burmese) sub-township were forced to work as laborers on the construction of the SPDC high school, carrying food and water for the military camp, feeding the camp pigs, and doing other odd jobs such as cleaning the toilets and picking up garbage around the camp.

“The students are very afraid to attend the (Mon) school, despite me encouraging them to come,” she claimed.

“Students near the village such as Krone Ka-nyar have to walk 90 minutes to get to the school in the Khaw Zar sub-township and were sometimes stopped by the SPDC’s troops who guard the village,” she explained further.

Students sometimes cannot enter their village because of the 5 p.m. curfew for villagers to be back by 5 p.m. from working on their farms or risk being shot or tortured, so students have to sleep outside the village.

“I have a total of 70 students, but only 50 attend the class because they are afraid of the Burmese authorities and their restrictions,” she added.

“I was told that I must close the Mon National School and let my students attend the government (SPDC) school,” Wa added.

“The continual threats on us to report on our activities including staff meetings have forced me to leave the area,” she said.

The Burmese government represses the teaching of the ethnic languages in all of Burma’s States, including the Shan, Mon, Chin, and Karen. The crackdown on the Mon National Schools began in earnest in 2003, at that time the SPDC launched an offensive in the area against a Mon guerilla armed group who has been active in the jungle since 1997, two years after the New Mon State Party reached a ceasefire agreement with SPDC, the Burmese government.


Village extortion as rural development
(Kaowao, February 9, 2006)

Sangkhalaburi -- On orders from the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Ham-Gam village will be extorted money to solve the flooding problem during the rainy season reported local sources.

Ham-Gam village located in southern Mon State, consisting of about 3000 households, must provide up to 30,000 kyats each to the authorities, those who are too poor to pay will face problems by the authorities, says the Kaowao source from the area.

“To widen a small stream near the village to avoid flooding during the rainy season, the village headmen was ordered by the SPDC to collect money from the villagers, but only the richer households can afford to pay the hefty sum of thirty thousand kyats, while the poorer ones pay three thousands kyats,” said Nai Mon Lvi (not his real name) to Kaowao reporter by satellite phone from the area.

“The extorting process will be delayed because most cannot afford to pay on time; they need to save the money which could take a couple of weeks.”

The programme to widen the stream, started in the third week of January, was not introduced by the SPDC, but by the village headmen who has to pay bribes to the commander to allow a bulldozer to come in and dig the stream.

“The village must buy the fuel for the bulldozer and give supplies to the driver to implement the rural development programme,” Lvi said.

“About 30 members of the Mon National School teachers in the village who earn a small salary of 5000 kayts monthly will find it difficult to pay,” he added.

They will be taken to the township authorities for interrogation if they cannot pay, he added.

The village headmen is ordered to skip collecting money from about 45 members of SPDC schoolteachers, Women Affair Committee, USDA in the village who are the privileged class.

The village headman plans to widen the stream 16 feet on either side and deepen it to prevent it from overflowing, he said.

The farmlands owned by three people who live adjacent to the stream will be relocated, but there was no discussion on whether they will receive compensation or not, he added.

The village household list on a signboard shows 2000 households as residing in the area, however, the exact figure is about 3000, leaving it open for corruption in which the authorities can pocket cash extorted from the extra 1000 households after he pays his superiors.


Human rights abuses as result of gas pipeline explosion in Mon State
(Kaowao: February 8, 2006)

An explosion near the Kan Bauk - Myaingkalay gas pipeline in central Mon State in the first week of February prompted the Burmese military, the State Peace and Development Council, to force 96 villagers to guard the pipeline, a project built by the SPDC military in 2000 in Mudon Township, with some being suspected and subsequently tortured with electric shocks and beatings, sources said.

“A total of 96 people from four villages in the area adjacent to the pipeline explosion were rounded up and forced to guard it along with soldiers (State Peace and Development Council troops),” said a man from Kwan Hlar village to a Kaowao reporter, who requested not to be identified for security reasons.

 “The secretary of Kwan- Hlar village, arrested for suspicion, was tortured by electric shocks, now he has lost his memory,” quoted a family source.

Mr. Nai Nok, in his fifties, the former chief of the village militia force of the SPDC and Mr. Nai Raer Jaer, in his forties, are being held in the Mon State detention center. It is thought that they will not be released until the bomb setting culprits are found.

The villages will be all burnt down if another explosion occurs in the area, he quoted a SPDC commander as saying in an emergency meeting held in the village on February 5.

People are too afraid to go outside of their village because of heavy restrictions imposed on their movements. The SPDC is checking up on New Mon State Party members who are active in the area.

The SPDC has put up photos of ‘dangerous men’ related to the incident in the public areas in Mon State including around the area of the explosion, where Muslim and Karen Nationals were last seen about a week before the explosion, but no Mon were reportedly seen, a witness said.

“SPDC Local Battalion No. 62 in the area said the bomb explosion is not related to the NMSP,” says a local villager who wishes not to be named and who has close ties to a local SPDC commander.

Hundreds of local people were rounded up and subsequently questioned, but were freed when no information was forthcoming, others suspected of knowing something were tortured, the source said.

In 2003, when the last explosion occurred, NMSP contacts were brought in for questioning, with no arrests.

The Kan Bauk – Myaingkalay pipeline transports gas from the Yadana Gas offshore field in Tenasserim to a cement factory in Myaingkalay village in Karen State.

A series of explosions have occurred in Mudon Township starting in 2002, three times in Mudon township, one time in Thanbyuzayat township and one time in Ye township, 2 of which were ruptures that released gas throughout the local area causing fires and environmental damage.


Speaking Mon Contest reflects ancient heritage
(By Kun Yekha, Kaowao: January 25, 2006)

Fort Wayne -- The third anniversary of the “Speaking Mon Contest” was held at a Buddhist temple in Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA.  The contest tests local Mon youth living in Fort Wayne on their Mon speaking and conversation skills in a bid to preserve and interest second generation Mon youth.

“I always practice Mon at home. I am concerned that my friends are only speaking in English, they should try to speak Mon as well,” said Saik Chan, a grade 7 student at the Summer Mon Literacy class who won the first prize in the speaking contest. The idea was received strongly by about 70 Mon students from the summer class, (21) of them participated in the contest. “I was excited when they called my name to come and talk in front of so many people,” said Mi Ah Htaw.

The Mon language, while classified in the Austro-Asiatic language family, is a language developed from some of the world’s oldest languages, Sanskrit and Pali, the languages of Buddhism, culture and philosophy, over 1500 years ago with an independent script that dates back to the 5 century A.D. The language developed in conjunction with the settlement of Mon cities along the rich fertile flood plains of Lower Burma and central Thailand.

Mon culture, religion and language are inseparable, so when the Mon resettled in a third country, like the United States, the very first thing they did was build a Buddhist Temple. The speaking contest required the contestants to give a 3 to 4 minute speech with creative output, spoken with clarity and elegance characteristic of the Mon language. The candidate had to use the right vocabulary and tone according to the social context in front of an audience.

The Mon refugee diaspora is estimated to be roughly about one thousand people living in Europe and North America. The Kaowao website posts information on learning the Mon language for those interested.  The major concern among the Mon refugee community is that second generation Mon will not be able to read, speak, and write in their mother tongue.

The Mon community in Fort Wayne, Indiana State is the biggest in the western world. In the US, the Mons have built three Buddhist temples where they teach Mon literature during the summer time.


MRC, clear commitment to achieving Mon Independence
(By Kun Yekha, Kaowao: February 5, 2006)

Fort Wayne -- After a two-day conference in Fort Wayne and an online meeting by Mons throughout the USA, an agreement was finally reached for substantial reforms of the Monland Restoration Council (MRC) in a bid to work together as a team toward Mon self-determination in Burma (Myanmar).

The last meeting concluded yesterday after all state representatives decided to work together to advance Mon national affairs by supporting Burma human rights and political freedoms for all ethnic groups in Burma.

Nai Pon Nya Mon was elected as president of MRC (Central) and the General Secretary position will be held by Nai Soeng K Mahn. They decided to enlist two representatives to lead the Coordinating Committee of Oversea Mons, which includes representatives from Australia, the EU and Canada.

“Achieving Mon independence is our top priority, we all have agreed toward expanding dialogue and struggle together for the realization of our common objective,” said the newly elected president, Nai Pon Nya Mon.

In order to run MRC (Central) activities, all individual state communities will find ways to increase their coffers and the Central Committee itself will manage their own budget.

On December 25-26, Monland Restoration Council held its 12th conference in Fort Wayne with Mon representatives from Ohio, North Carolina and New York in attendance. All representatives agreed to work on political activities in supporting positive change within the Central and Community Branches of MRC.

The MRC (Central) will lead the activities of media relations, Foreign affairs, Mon national aid section and Mon national funds, while Community Branches will work in their respective states with their own community activities.


Media Release

59th Mon National Day, Canberra (Australia)

The Mon community in Canberra welcomes everyone to come along and join in its annual celebration of Mon National Day on Saturday, February 18th, starting from 4:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Nearly everything is free including parking and admission to the church hall.

Speeches by local leaders and academics, exotic music and food, and lively dance performances by Mon woman are among the events to take place at the 59th Mon Day Celebration.

The Mon people are an ethnic group from Myanmar (Burma) who possess a rich cultural tradition with deeps roots in Southeast Asia that reaches back over 2000 years. We agree that Mon National Day is a perfect time to celebrate multiculturalism in Australia and we are proud to be able to do this after settling here as refugees who sought asylum and peace. It’s a privilege that we are able to share our culture, language and heritage with you, our host country, Australia.

 Celebrations will include traditional music and original dance performances and a photographic showcase of our people living in Burma and Thailand, accompanied by an information booth, will be presented.

Mon people in Burma, which is ruled by the Burmese military dictatorship, have been working tirelessly since 1757 to regain our political independence and freedom.  Mon National Day was an idea brought about by our people in 1947 to raise political awareness among our people to continue the struggle for freedom in a modern world.

Under successive oppressive regimes in Burma, the Mon people have managed to celebrate their National Day even at the risk of life imprisonment, a far cry from our own recent Australia Day celebrations.  Fortunately, Mon people in Australia are free to openly celebrate the 59th Mon National Day here in Canberra.

For those who love dance and culture, we welcome you, so please come along and join us in this happy celebration at St John’s Church, Constitution Avenue, Reid.

Media contacts:

Mr Banya Hongsar                      0404 330 924

Mr Din Pla Hongsa                      0402 632 166


SPDC cause great economic hardship of Mon village
(Kaowao, February 4, 2006)

The Local State Peace and Development authorities in Wear Kwao (Pauk-pin-kwin in Burmese) village, southern Burma recently destroyed a betel nut plantation worth seven million kyats after the plantation's owner Ms Mi Min was accused of being a Mon rebel supporter.

"The SPDC commander ordered the villagers to cut down every single tree that was on the land owned by the widow Ms. Mi Min," said Ms Mi Tin Shwe age 56 to a Kaowao reporter.

"Her garden covers three acres and was situated in a good area to grow betel nut trees," said Mi Min who fled from the village.

Wear Kwao village has faced increased economic hardship over the past decade due the SPDC's self-sufficient policy and its location to a Mon splinter group active in the area. Located in the remote border area of Mon State and Tenasserim Division the four hundred or so households depend on traditional horticulture to sustain a livelihood based mostly on the production of betel nuts or areca nuts, which is chewed by the locals and exported to urban areas in Burma.

The village grows betel nut more than any other fruit. The Areca palm tree or betel nut is an indigenous fruit and has been cultivated by Mon villagers for generations. They spend years cultivating the trees that yield 250 nuts per tree, per year. The fruit is cut up and combined with mineral lime and wrapped in the leaf of a betel palm and chewed as a stimulant.

Local SPDC authorities banned the villagers from working and harvesting betel nuts since a local Mon splinter group became active in the area after the ceasefire between the New Mon State Party and the Burmese government was signed.

"When the betel nuts ripen, the SPDC prevents us from going to our gardens to collect the fruit. Instead the soldiers collect the fruit and sell them back to the local people and stores," claimed a villager named Shwe. "The betel nuts were stolen from the villagers' gardens while the gardeners were barred to go their gardens," the villager further explained.

Ms Mi Nyunt and Han Tin who run the village stores are forced to buy thirty thousands betel nuts. The soldiers demand five kyats per nut compared to the market price of ten kyats.

"We must pay that price or be fined, we have no choice," she said. "Every household is forced to buy 200 betel nuts from the soldiers at a price they demand."

In order to sustain their military base in the area, the local SPDC commanders order five villagers every day to collect one thousand betel nuts each to sell to the village stores under force. The revenue they make pays the military's expenditures in the area.

The garden owners must allow one person to come and gather the nuts from their trees or they would be tortured for not doing so.

"My son couldn't climb the betel nut trees, so he had to ask for help from one of his friends," she continued.

Another problem is the weather, the betel nut flowers have suffered due to warmer weather, gardens in the past were able to produce more than four hundred thousand betel nuts, but now only produce about fifty thousand," points out Nai Hla Aung age 64, the husband of Mi Tin Shwe.

"A longer summer and a shorter rainy period makes the trees produce less nuts," the farmer explained.

Meanwhile, the local people, the majority being Mons and a minority of Tavoyans, this year cannot harvest their rice since they are banned from going outside their village.

"Mr Nai Apha age 60 was captured in his garden and killed by SPDC Light Infantry Battalion No 273 for working in his garden," claimed Mr Nai Hla Aung age 64 who fled to the Thai-Burma border.

"The villagers must spend time portering and guarding the railway road from Ye township, Mon State crossing the boundary to get to Ye Byu Township, Tenasserim and they cannot work properly on their gardens," the villager explained.

"We must porter and guard the railway road for about five days at a time, at other times we have to porter about once a week," Aung said. "We have no time to work on our gardens and we are barred from entering them to collect the fruits. We cannot survive like this."

The gardeners suffer greater hardship economically since they are banned to go to their gardens regularly. The villagers who risk going to their gardens can be captured and extorted for money by the SPDC troops who are relocated every four months in the offensive area.

"Mr Nai Aboh age 30 and Mr Nai Akyin age 35 were extorted seven hundred kyats to be released after they were accused of being linked to the rebels. The abbot of the village must ensure the villagers are not linked to any of the Mon rebels in the area," Aung further explained.

"Other people who cannot porter must find a replacement and pay them 1500 kyats per day, sometimes they are taken for three days when the troops need to launch an offensive," Aung said.

In 2000 when the splinter armed group held a celebration of Mon National Day on February 13, in the village, some households suspected of being linked to the rebels were looted, destroyed and burned down by the SPDC soldiers.

"People who fled to the border from the village told me that about 80 houses were looted and everything of value was taken by the SPDC soldiers, everything else was destroyed" said a Mon National teacher who fled from the area about two months ago for security reasons and who has a contact in the area. "They left with nothing when they fled."

An elderly couple, Mr Nai Hla Aung and Ms Mi Tin Shwe, are now too old to work as laborers in clearing bush or on rubber plantations in Thailand; with no other options for survival they fled the troubled area to the Thai Burma border. They hope to return to their village and live in peace one day.


Commentary

Hopes and Tears of Burma
Kanbawza Win

For more than half a century (to be exact since 1962) the people of Burma has been under the boots of the military with a fonder hope that some miracle or an outside power would intervene to save them from the clutches of the tyrannical Burmese Generals. This hope still continues to spring eternal in the Burmese people's breast. Last December, the UN Security Council, the world's most powerful joint body was being brief on the woeful situation of Burma. True, Burma was not officially in the United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) agenda but had gained enough recognition as a threat to regional peace and security, so much so that the members has to take up the matter.

The case for potential threat was clearly outlined by the two Nobel Laureates, Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Its alacrity and recommendations to the UNSC under Chapter VII and Article 41 were clearly outlined. Millions of refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and migrant workers are present in the peripheral of Burma, posing a grave threat to its neighboring countries and its prominent role as the region's narco powerhouse with drug warlords as the illustrious gentlemen of Rangoon, are just some of the irrevocable points, not to mention the persecutions of its political opponents and of course the hush- hush nuclear reactor near Maymyo, all post a severe threat to the international security.

But the big power rivalry in the region which at present is maintained by an unspoken equilibrium or at arms length in international relations, the current latent balance would be thrust to the front in the vortex of geopolitical active competition, for strategic control or influence in this vital strategic country, whose borders are shared by principal competitors and overlooks the important critical gateway to the Sea lanes of the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Burma has embarrassed ASEAN over and over again. Instead of offering political cover for the Junta, elected leaders of other countries should be standing side by side with Aung San Suu Kyi and others in Burma fighting for their rights. Because of continued political support and trade with China, India, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, the military government in Rangoon has remained largely impervious to sanctions by the United States and European Union. In fact, even the military can lay claim to having some sort of transitional strategy. While it is a sham, they have the National Convention and the road map to democracy. Using these, the military will able to emulate the 1974 election when the Junta transformed itself into a civilian government. They will claim legitimacy without giving the Burmese people any real political change.

During the Cold War era, Ne Win, the father of the Burmese dictators, has perfected his isolationist policy allowing the military to suppress internal opposition without attracting international attention. They are bent on staying in power at all cost and have crawled for dialogue and have tied themselves to China, ASEAN and India, forging economic links that are difficult to break. The Burmese Generals strategy is to isolate themselves from spheres of Western influence, consolidate their power and marginalize Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD. It had has served them well, allowing them to remain in power for 16 years. The Western world and the US are shouting for democracy and political transition in Burma but they have no clear strategy for how they will implement these things. They have plenty to say, but no solutions for the Burmese people. It is time to formulate a plan and a policy if we want to see a democratic Burma.

It seems that China and the United States are not pushing harder for democratic reforms in Burma as they had done in North Korea. China, Burma's strongest ally, has steered clear of calls for democratization there, and has not pressed for Daw Suu's release. Also, India, Burma's western neighbor, has spoken in general terms about the virtues of democracy without directly criticizing the Junta or lending a helping hand to the pro democracy movement. As hard as it seems all three of them including the European Union and Japan need to play major roles in the future of Burma and tough political decisions must be made by all sides if we were to achieve our dire result. A Six-power conference (China, India, US, EU, Japan and ASEAN) like Korea should be attempted on the Burmese thugs.

In Burma's case it is very evident that the wills of the superpowers were sorely wanting In his second inaugural address, President George W. Bush pledged that "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore` your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. And not only in spirit but we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary" But did the President really mean it? Now Bush II has pledged in an open forum that "all who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know that when you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." Supposing to day if Taiwan were to declare independence will the United States defend by force of arms? Bush's followers will complain, "Well, of course he doesn't mean it'.

In spite of the America's long and sometimes dubious history of encouraging opposition groups only to stand by and watch tanks or helicopters mow the persecuted people down our hopes are still pin on Uncle Sam. Even though we know that in 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pledged to the Hungarians and ended up as thousands of Hungarians were slaughtered and in 1991, during the first Iraq War the first Bush administration encouraged the Shiite to rise up against Saddam Hussein. Helicopters flew and the Shiites were slaughter, yet we look towards America.

As a Burmese we can only applaud the US resolve on Burma issue, and its launch of what could be a snowball effect in its international drive to effect the change in Burma. There is hope and the fifty million plus people cling on to it. Even at the State of the Union address, the other day President Bush said "We seek the end of tyranny in our world….At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half in places like Burma…, because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom as well." To the Burmese people these kind of words rings like sweet bells in their ears. What we need is the follow up actions.

At the briefing of the UNSC the consensus was "The most important point we came away with was the Secretary General's comment that this situation obviously requires further scrutiny," commented John Bolton the British representative. The UN Secretary General has tried his level best since a decade ago, when he endeavor to facilitate national reconciliation and democratization but was hampered by the Junta, who refused to let the Special Envoy Razali Ismail into the country.

In the words of Ibrahin Gambari, Kofi Annan's political chief, who brief the Security Council "The people of Burma has endured unnecessary social and economic hardships. In the longer term, deep-rooted chronic and accelerating poverty growing insecurity and increasing political tension appeared to be moving Burma towards humanitarian crisis. Clearly this was a man made disaster, in other words is a disaster imposed by the Generals over its own people. The consensus of the UNSC was that the Burmese problem needs to be addressed. Now the Burmese people are hoping and praying that the UNSC will keep Burma firmly under it international security and of course all power should be give to the US and Britain to take the lead in changing Burma.

It is already high time for a UN Commission of Inquiry to be established to investigate the longstanding dire human rights situation in Burma and the possibility that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed. Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in Asia, despite promises for political reform and national reconciliation by its authoritarian military government. It continues to commit systematic, widespread, and well-documented abuses in ongoing conflicts with ethnic minority rebel groups, including extra-judicial executions, rape, torture, forced relocation of entire villages, and forced labor. Perhaps it is time for the civilized world to stop the tear drops and the Burmese people and hear their sorrowful and pathetic cries.

Chiangmai


Opinion/Analysis

Pro-democracy movement should prepare for the post-regime change era
By Salai Za Ceu Lian

In today’s struggle for democratization in the Union of Burma, apparently, there are two politically contested views among the pro-democratic forces: to topple the regime from power should be our sole movement focus advocated by one side and, as opposed to this view, the other side of view is those strongly believing in the need to simultaneously prepare for the post-military regime change era while struggling to remove the military dictatorship from power.

Between the two,  those proponents of zeroing the movement in on toppling the regime should be the movement priority and the talk about issues like rebuilding the Union should be the next step argue that all human, intellectual, and financial resources should only be geared towards the programs leading to overthrow the regime from power. Their reasoning explains that overthrowing the military junta from illegal power is first and the talk about federalism and preparation for programs like state constitution and federal arrangement etc. should be addressed after the fall of the military junta.

On the other hand, visionary leaders and advocates of taking further steps by working out a blueprint how the country should be restructured at the same time while attempting to overthrow the military junta from power strongly propose the essentiality of preparing ourselves and getting well-organized for the post-regime change era with view to avoid chaotic situations and various tensions. They believe that removing the military regime from power is the only first step in our pro-democracy movement and not enough in itself. In line with their political beliefs, visionary leaders have taken systematic initiatives by means of spearheading and promoting their political agendas such as processing the state constitutions drafting initiatives, raising awareness about what federalism means for a multi-ethnic country like Burma, and implementing various capacity building projects in anticipation of the post-military regime change era.

As briefly laid out above, the main argument between both sides lies in the question of whether or not the movement indeed should be made narrowly focused on removing SPDC from power?   Even though there is an ideological split between these two sides on the question of making the movement more efficient and effective, it is crystal clear without question that the first and foremost objective of both sides and the ongoing pro-democracy movement as a whole is to overthrow the military junta from power. It is common sense and understandable that toppling the regime from power should come first by all means. Unless the military regime is removed from power, it is clear that the drafting of state constitution and different programs that are designated to be practically implemented in the post-regime era cannot be employed anywhere else.

However, what the movement as a whole need to foresee is that the fall of this dictatorial regime from power will surely occur one day in the future. The only question is WHEN that change - collapse of regime - would take place? This question of WHEN is a key here to think about. This is the very reason and notion challenging and motivating visionary leaders of the day to step up the need to take political initiatives with broad view to lead the post-regime era Union of Burma into prosperous and peaceful one.  Therefore, at this stage of our struggle, the rationale advocating that the movement should narrowly focus on overthrowing the regime from power without necessarily considering the challenges ahead that would inevitably confront the future Union of Burma is NOT adequate move.

The questions needed to be considered are these: If the military regime falls from power in the near future, what would  the Union of Burma face? What kind of Union and political system we want to have? Do we want a classical federal system or con-federal form of Union or unitary system? These are the questions leaders of the day both outside and inside Burma should keep in mind before the actual change takes place. As a matter of fact, if the regime hands over power to the civilian government, which will happen one day for sure, the post-regime change leaders would be faced with the question of what and how to lead the collectively owned Union of Burma.  Therefore, it is a must based on the past experiences and the historical task demanding the visionary leaders of our movement today to prepare for the post-military regime era of the future Union of Burma by means of courageously, rationally and openly tackling and addressing the historical impasses and political roadblocks confronting the ongoing movement without waiting for the future democratic leaders to tackle it.

It is foreseeable that the sole focus to topple regime from power without preparation for the post-regime change era can be a dangerous move, which could  lead the Union of Burma into deplorable situations. In order to astutely avoid such deplorable tensions that would challenge the post-military regime era of Burma, it is essential for all leaders of the movement to unconditionally accept and support the concept encouraging leaders of the ongoing movement to take further steps by working out the blueprints and political roadmap sketching how the Union be restructured.

Understanding the movement challenges and with the intension of saving the Union from undergoing through such destructive conflicts associating with the collapse of the military regime, it is very impressive to witness the fact that the dominant forces of pro-democracy movement embrace the notion supporting the need to prepare for the post-military regime era. In line with the guiding principles in rebuilding the federal Union of Burma under democracy, visionary leaders and policy makers in the political fronts such as the United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD), National Democratic Front (NDF), National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB), National Council of Union of Burma (NCUB), leading individuals, and other fronts put considerable amount of efforts in drafting the State Constitution and capacity building projects in anticipation of having a smooth transition and rebuilding a genuine federal Union of Burma.  This historic move is timely, relevant, and  noble step that the entire pro-democracy forces need to strongly endorse.

Notably, the call for a genuine federal form of Union under democracy has been widely supported by all forces of the ongoing movement for democratization in Burma except group of dictators and like-minded individuals who still refused to recognize the national equality of all constituent member states of the Union of Burma. Let us be assured once again here. For a multi-ethnic country like the Union of Burma, made up of diverse national races, where a political identity based on a collectively shared sense of nationalism and separate land ownership like Karen nationalism, Kachin nationalism, Chin nationalism, Burman nationalism, Rakhine nationalism, Karenni nationalism, Mon nationalism, and Shan nationalism shape the political landscape of Burma so strongly, the classical federal form of Union is the only best system which would best accommodate diverse national interests and competing issues in the Union. Therefore, in order for the Union of Burma to be stable, united, and developed, all the constituent member states of the Union should unequivocally support the timely call made by visionary leaders of the day which is to rebuild a genuine federal Union of Burma.

At this juncture of our movement, it is clear that making the movement narrowly focused on removing the regime from power is not alone enough. Therefore, all the pro-democracy forces need to stand in unison behind the political beliefs of the visionary leaders of the day and their ongoing historic initiatives advocating the need to prepare for the post-military regime change era which is underway.

_________________________________

Commentator, Salai Za Ceu Lian, a second year student at the University of Winnipeg, Canada, doubly majoring in political science and communication, is currently the General Secretary of Burmese Community Organization of Manitoba, Canada. He is assistant general secretary of  the Chin National League for Democracy (Exile), a political party which won 3 Parliamentary seats during the 1990 general elections in Burma. He was a former Chin Youth representative at the United Nationalities Youth League (UNYL), multi-ethnic youth alliance based in Thailand, a former general secretary of Chin Students' Union (CSU), and was a former Assistant General Secretary of the Committee for Non-violent Action for Burma (CNAB) based in India. He also works as Associate Editor for Chinland Guardian and Rhododendron News, a bi-monthly human rights newsletter published by Chin Human Rights Organization)

(Chinland Guardian: February 2, 2006)


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