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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

KAOWAO NEWS NO. 99

Newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma
November 5-22, 2005

Readers’ Front

Migrant workers happy after tying the knot

Headman shot with homemade gun: villagers flee

Nai Ngwe Ya: Remembering him keeps alive our hope for social justice

Handpicked NC representative says no sense in attending NC

Securing ceasefire agreement seen as step backward

Buddhist monks flee Mon State fearing persecution

Mon: By Min K Kyaw

Mon music: A struggle for identity

Geeta-Watee: Mon band formed in Moulmein

Myanmar expands military presence in new capital


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@hotmail.com, www.kaowao.org


I am shock after I have read the news in Kaowao about the NMSP's plan to attend the wicked National Convention of Burmese regime.

It is obvious that the NC does not target to solve the political problem by the political mean, and the regime's target is to keep grabbing the state power until the movements of ethnic nationalities come to end. Why the NMSP made such a stupid decision to attend the NC despite requests by overseas Mons not to join the NC? If the NMSP ignores the voices of Mon people, we believe that the NMSP want to become a tyranny party among the Mons.

Aung Moe San’s "a political problem can never be solved by a dialogue on the table" article in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper on 13 November, 05 tells us that it was a warning to ceasefire groups who want to solve a political problem by a political mean.

Please stop attending the NC to keep Mon political dignity and let a new generation take the burden of freedom with a good dignity!

Nandasuraman

New York, USA


Re: Mon music: A struggle for identity

This is nothing more than the practice of imperialism of the SPDC, Burmese military regime. In 18th and 19th centuries, British colonialism expanded in Burma or other part of the world to search for new market for their productions. SPDC, who has been condemning British and Western countries for their imperialist practices over Burma, do not realize that they themselves have been practicing imperialism over non-Burman nationalities over centuries. As the following news show that as Burmese music loss its market shares in Mon State, they banned Mon music bands to performance on stage in order for Burmese music to gain market share. This is exactly imperialism of Burmese military regime over Mon people. Moreover, by destroying Mon culture and literature, Burmese imperialist culture is able to gain control in Mon State or on Mon people.

Anonymous


I am sorry to hear about you, Artists! Anyway, if I may, I would like to say: Bravo! Congratulations!

One day, Picasso was asked by Times Mag., "Picasso, what is art?" Then, Picasso replied: "what is not”!

Courage! Good continuation!

May you all be blessed with happiness for your struggle for identity!

With all good wishes / Metta,

Aung Ko (still beyond Rangoon...)


On Kanbawza Win’s “An Attempt on Jigsaw Puzzle”

Quote:

1. Burmese problem is basically the struggle against the Burmanization program, imposed by a major ethnic Burman tribe over the ethnic nationalities? End.

It is irresponsible, insincere and self indulged assumption ignoring the very large number of Bama’s suffering since 1962, especially at 1988. It should be addressed like that “one of the major Burmese problem is basically the struggle against the Burmanization program, imposed by a major ethnic Burman tribe over the ethnic nationalities?”

Quote;

Now everybody wants to be Bo Aung San and unwittingly in their zeal ended up as Bo Teza, so much so that the standard joke of putting two Burmese in a cell will form three political parties? End.

This is not a place like sipping the coffee with friends. Please, be serious. Don’t make a joke to make inferior any race.

Quote;

6.Modern Burma is not a single monolithic entity or a nation state but all the ethnic people agree to stay willingly under the Union of Burma provided they are treated equal and if the concordat is destroy than every ethnic nationality has the right to take whatever actions necessary. This is the crux of the Burmese problem and until and unless one can tackle this basic problem there can be no peace and tranquility?  End.

Nobody can go back exactly to the time of Pan Long, but, to the spirit of Pan Long. All ethnics shall have self determination and equal rights. The boundary of Burma is real not imaginary. Whoever, including Bama, does not respect the democratic principles, universal human rights, and self determination etc. must be disciplined according to consensus. We must have the common ground. Threatening to secession is no use but illusion. It is very dangerous and short-sighted to play the secession card.

I'm very surprised to learn that we still have some activist who wants to play right in the hands of S.P.D.C.in order to create unnecessary dispute among us.

Aung Tin (Toronto, Canada)


Migrant workers happy after tying the knot
(Kaowao: November 21, 2005)

Bangkok -- Being Buddhists, most Mon migrant workers in Thailand planned their wedding ceremony over the 3 month Buddhist Lent that ended last month.

"Young couples plan their wedding according to the Mon lunar calendar," said Zahan Ong, the videographer of the ceremonies after adding the finishing touches to several Mon wedding CD’s.

“It is becoming really popular to have weddings videoed, I add music and many married couples are interested in keeping the CD,” Ong said.

Nai Nyo San who got married last week said, “I spent over 20,000 Baht for my ceremony. Some migrants go all out and spend over 50,000 Baht for their wedding,” he added.

Nai Pe, a young Mon migrant in Bangkok, said that the couples have to bribe the Thai police not to crash the wedding ceremony for 3,000 and 4,000 Baht.

The wedding package CDs includes both Mon and Burmese label songs mixed with traditional Mon marriage rites.


Headman shot with homemade gun: villagers flee
(Kaowao News Group: November 18, 2005)

A village headman in southern Mon State was shot in his village by an unknown gunman last October, said a young political activist who fled to border fearing arrest.

Mr. Nai Amel, 55 years, from An-din village, northern Ye Township, was shot with a homemade gun. All 30 homemade guns from the village were seized after the killing.

A wealthy villager, Mr. Nai Mar Swe, 28 years, was accused of the murder and arrested by the police, said Mr. Soiha Raejae, a member of Mon National Democratic Front, the only Mon political party to win five seats in the 1990 election.

“Mr Nai Mar Swe will be released when the police find the real murderer,” he added. Swe was seen in another part of the village when the murder took place. Many villagers came to his defense, but the police would not release him, he added.

Another source close to the SPDC in Ye town said that the police single out the more well off villagers to extort money.

Four villagers fled to the border after the police came to their village trying to make arrests of those suspected. Mostly innocent people were arrested.

"The secretary (headman) was very corrupt in making decisions during village trials, if you had the money you could bribe your way to innocence.  He did everything to buy off the SPDC authorities against his villagers," Raejae said.

“The secretary was a key player in helping the local Burmese authorities confiscate hundreds of acres of plantation lands, as requested from the Burmese commanders,” he explained. “The plantation land is worth at least three to ten million Kyats.  There was only one shot fired from the gun because it was handmade," Raejae said.

According to local villagers, the secretary also extorted money when organizing traditional theaters and festivals, but failed to honor his side of the bargain and pocketed the money after getting the cheaper deals.

Raejae and three other villagers fled to the border, some other villagers fled to other areas inside Burma.


Condolence

Nai Ngwe Ya: Remembering him keeps alive our hope for social justice
(By Cham Toik: November 19, 2005)

Nai Ngwe Ya, whose human rights career spanned 30 years, died in Rangoon at the age of 52 on November 16, 2005, from complications of cancer.

I am deeply saddened by his death, as are all who have been close to him and those who were defended by him.  Inside Burma, Nai Ngwe Ya worked tirelessly for the human rights of our Mon people.  As a Mon in the Diaspora who has worked in the same cause I can testify that his work will continue to be an inspiration for me.  He will be hugely missed.

I have lived in exile for many years now in Canada, but I cannot stop struggling for freedom for our people. Reading news and information on Burma is a big part of my life.  I am particularly caught up in what is happening to those from my own area, Ye, in southern Mon State, where people live in constant fear of miserable treatment at the hands of the Burma Army.  In Mon State, the major concern now is land confiscation, but forced labour, extortion, arrest, torture and rape occur daily in my homeland.

Life in a third country is comfortable. I can wake up now without the nightmare of being arrested by the Military Intelligence, or of having to hand over my life savings as a forced donation for  so-called community development projects, or of being shouted at to ‘volunteer’ for forced labour by Burma’s SPDC’s government.  But now, I relive those fears through the eyes of a new generation who have to grow up in a land of misery, underdevelopment, and impoverishment.  These are the conditions that Nai Ngwe Ya and I have fought so hard to rid the country of for many years now. Indeed, we have been fighting for their survival every day.

Good memories of Nai Ngwe Ya will always remain deep in my heart.  We first met when I was studying in Rangoon.  Even though we were in different classes, the Mon Culture and Literature Association of Rangoon University brought us together.  We had good times together other Mon students at the Weikza Hall where our seniors treated us to exciting performances during the “Fresher Welcome” organized by the Mon Association. I often spent evenings talking with him at his Inn Wa hostel and we spent a lot of time together during the university student life.  He was caring for his widowed mother and used to travel from his native Zathapyin village in Karen State to Mon State.  When the universities were closed after the student strikes began, he came down to Durae annual festival with his mother, Mi Tin Hlaing to earn some money to look after her needs.

I had no chance to say good-bye to him after I was black-listed by Military Intelligence.  I just had to get away from the campus during July’s rainy days, as the MIS was searching everywhere for me.  Later, when I became involved in guerrilla warfare, my extreme left wing ideology at the time clouded my judgment of Nai Ngwe Ya and other urban friends as opportunists and I lost touch with him.

I am grateful that the cease-fire signed by the New Mon State Party in 1995 at least offered the opportunity to again communicate with Nai Ngwe Ya through NMSP leader Nai Soe Myint.  How good to know that Ngwe Ya was still in Rangoon actively working for the Mon community.  He had become a key player in the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) and was taking a leadership role with the United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD).

Once again, during a visit to Bangkok in 2001, I was able to talk with him over the phone.  Unfortunately, we had to break off the call but I can still remember his voice speaking with the same tone of commitment and passion.  Later, when I had a chance to call back, he was not in his law office.  To make a phone call in Burma is not only expensive, but it can be dangerous for people to talk to friends on the outside.

Nonetheless, I followed closely news of his work to free those who had been imprisoned.  I can still hear his voice – his candid voice – speaking out courageously for justice. That brave, strong voice challenging the Burmese courts to release activists wrongly charged because of their work for human rights still resonates within me.  It is simply incredible all that he did on behalf of those people, I am hugely proud that he was Mon and a skilled human rights advocate.  Truly, he became a portal of hope – a lifeline -- for the human rights of the people of Burma.

Looking back, I see Nai Ngwe Ya, as someone worthy of profound respect.   I see a man who highly motivated and committed to the Mon people and our democratic movement. I think his greatest achievement as a lawyer will be the successful petition he brought to the Burmese court this year to free ten defendants from a death sentence for reporting forced labour practices to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

This renowned Mon lawyer Nai Ngwe Ya passed away at his home in Thaketa on November 16, 2005.  I will always be thankful that I learned a new respect for him and came to have a better judgment of his accomplishments over the years, I know now we all have a role to play; he will leave his mark on my life and on Burma forever.


Handpicked NC representative says no sense in attending NC
(IMNA: November 17, 2005)

A handpicked military government National Convention representative from southern Burma felt that that was no sense in attending the National Convention.

"It is no good joining. Again it is also not good not to join. The NC will conclude but the representatives will not be allowed to change the constitution. They can only discuss whether the draft constitution is good or not," he explained to a group of Mon youth.

The representatives will be allowed to tell the NC committee what they had seen. But the military government will not make changes, because the authorities have already told NC representatives that they will not change any clause in the draft constitution, he said.

This representative has a good understanding of the constitution and has a lot of influence in community movements. There were many representatives like him, who were handpicked by local military commanders. But he is the only person who is not from a military government controlled organization, such as the Union Solidarity Development Association and others organizations. He had joined the NC under pressure.

The Military government also plans to conclude the NC and get a referendum on the draft constitution. But the referendum will not be for the people. It will apply to the military government employees and military government controlled organizations, he added.


Securing ceasefire agreement seen as a step backward
(Kaowao: November 17, 2005)

Ye -- New Mon State Party has decided to attend the government sponsored National Convention next month in which it is hoped that formal talks will pave the way toward a political settlement among all of Burma’s nationalities.

Interestingly, the NMSP’s emergency meeting at its headquarters named a delegation comprised of low-profile officers replacing senior leaders, Nai Chan Toi, General Aung Naing and Colonel Lawee Ong who attended the previous sections.

Sources close to the NMSP said, there is constant pressure on the ethnic groups to give up their arms in spite of cease fire agreement and some senior members of the NMSP are frustrated with the way the SPDC authorities have treated its members recently.

"The Burmese authorities at the Ye township checkpoint have changed their attitude and are trying to prevent our freedom of movement agreed to in our talks in 1995 when the ceasefire agreement was signed, particularly among NMSP members, " said Nai Chan Mon of Ye.

"A senior member said he is disappointed with the way police act at the checkpoint.  The NMSP officers in charge of the urban liaison office are reluctant to travel and cross through the checkpoints,” he added.

A Kaowao source inside Mon state learned that the SPDC is not satisfied with the NMSP, due to its refusal in giving up it arms.  The military junta blames the ceasefire groups for destabilizing the country’s peace by not totally giving up their arms.

The Southeast Commander in Mon State visited Ye Township last September and told the NMSP to surrender its arms in order to maintain the peace.

The working relationship between the NMSP and the SPDC is at an impasse after the Military Intelligence apparatus was purged last October.

The NMSP President, Nai Htaw Mon told Mon reporters last month at the border that his party has no policy in surrendering or giving up his arms.

"We want to solve the problems in Burma through the political process," the President reiterated. "We favor a tripartite dialogue because we are committed to regaining our people’s sovereignty, or we will withdraw from the cease fire agreement if they insist upon us to give up ours arms."

Nai Htaw Mon did not say whether there was a deadline on part of the NMSP in which the ceasefire agreement would be broken.

Others argue that the SPDC has manipulated its terms outlined in the ceasefire agreement to its own benefit, thus creating conflict in the remote areas and the spawning of rebel groups.


Buddhist monks flee Mon State fearing persecution
(Kaowao, November 15, 2005)

Fifteen Buddhist monks from southern Ye Township have fled to the Thai-Burma border fearing persecution after being accused of supporting Mon guerilla groups.

Fighting between a Mon guerrilla group and a SPDC local battalion took place close to a temple on November 8. “The SPDC accused us of supporting the Mon guerilla group and tried to arrest us on the spot, but we were able to escape,” the monks said.

The monks are from Bop Htaw village which is near a SPDC military base in the Kao Jear sub town, southern Ye township.

A source from Ye Township said that the local Mon people in this area are more likely to support the Mon guerilla group because of the high incidence of human rights abuse by the SPDC junta, which includes the conscription of forced labour, portering, and land confiscation of productive land owned by hundreds of families. Because of land confiscation many people are without land and are living as internally displaced people.

The villagers have no weapons to prevent any such attacks from occurring, Nai Swoh, a young political activist from the area told Kaowao shortly after arriving at the border four days ago.

Big villages such as Ham Gam consist of 14 tracks and villagers must guard each of the tracks by the order of the Burma Army.  Southern Ye township of Mon State consists of about 20 villages which are forced to guard the area at night from attacks on the SPDC soldiers by the rebels.

The area is designated by the Burma Army as a black zone and villagers have been restricted in visiting their farms since the army started an offensive aimed at wiping out the Mon guerrilla group.


Poetry

Mon

We come from the Northwest somewhere in a distant history

Whether our land then occupied or we occupied here

Didn’t cross a sea but along the rivers: Maenam, Salween and Irrawaddy

Mountains, plains and a lot of teaks;

Perhaps, we left the fertile North for more fertile sea

Whether then a sea was there but now with us here

We’ve loved our paddy, praised with tales and festivals

And learned to cross the Bangla Sea;

Broods of Mon-kind, peace loving Buddhists, we’re of the paddy

Proud of our shrines, and generosity, Indebted to ancestors, a race of dignity

They built certain kingdoms in SE Asia: Pegu, Thaton, Haripunjaya and Dvaravati

Once we lost, twice we lost, but we’ll rebuild a peaceful society;

Min K Kyaw


Mon music: A struggle for identity
(Kaowao, November 12, 2005)

Two popular Mon music bands, Geeta Mon and Geeta Alankar, are banned to perform on stage, says an observer of the entertainment community from Mon State.

The Southeast Commander, who occupies a top military position in lower Burma, issued the order, says Nai Aie Tamai, a Mon musician from Mudon.  Since early October, the bands have been told to stop performing on stage.

“They (SPDC) do not like us. It is clear they want us off the stage. I think the reason is because Burmese music bands in Mon State are not that popular, so the SPDC just told us to pack it up,” he added. However, the Mon celebrities from Geeta Mon and Geeta Alankar are still performing with the other bands and have to conceal their names to do so.

Mon music is well liked by most teens in Mon State and many Mons have no interest in singing Burmese songs, according to an owner of music store in Moulmein, the capital city of Mon State.

“Geeta Mon and Geeta Alankar featuring Mon singers have a wide range of fans and there is no competition in Mon State,” Tamai said.

Mon musicians have stepped outside of their social boundaries in recent years and travel frequently to Thailand to perform outdoor concerts. Mon singers are popular among migrant workers and youths who come to the most popular of Mon festivals over the holidays in the Mon community in Mahachai and Sangkhalaburi, especially on Mon National Day and temple festivals.

Not only can the Mon singers outperform their Burmese competitors, but also Mon theaters (Pwe) are well attended. Even though a night at the Mon theater is two or three times more expensive than Burmese ones, Mon audiences rather pay the high fee to attend their own national theater.


Background story from Kao Wao, No 53: October 1, 2003

Geeta-Watee: Mon band formed in Moulmein
(By Bop Htaw)

Over twenty Mon students from various universities have joined a Mon music band named "Geeta Watee" led by Ai Mon, a well known Mon musician.

Ai Mon said the team is seeking new instruments including guitars, drum set and key-board with Yamaha or Roland brands in order to better entertain the Mon public and fans. According to him, a senior Mon monk will donate an audio set, but the group will be seeking contribution from friends and Mon music lovers both home and abroad for the other things they need.

The Geeta Watee will perform for their audience both modern and traditional, music including dance and drama on the stage. Ai Mon is now consulting with other traditional Mon musicians and dancing groups in various places to secure their cooperation and partnership for the shows.

The new band is not only doing stage-shows but also planning to open a formal Mon Music Training Centre in the future. The centre will cater to music-minded boys and girls. Some talented youths have already joined the band and they are in training under Ai Mon and his senior staffs in Moulmein for concert shows in year 2004. His personal assistant, Kun Jot Mon, is in charge of recruiting members and the training program.

"Our great interest is to promote traditional and modern Mon music while we are emerging to a new age of geopolitics. However, without the support of friends and fellow Mon musicians in abroad, the prospects for the project would bleak because we have very limited financial resources", said the popular Mon celebrity at his apartment in Malaysia. He is on vacation visiting his sons who work in Malaysia.

The Geeta Watee now has four contracts in 2004, the first for A-Ning monk funeral ceremony, the second for KwanBoe Village Festival, and also for 50th Anniversary of Kaw Bein Monastery and the 57th Mon National Day celebration in Mudon.

The group was formed last August in Mon State with over twenty members. Ai Mon, who graduated from Mandalay University, founded a popular Geeta-Mon band in the late 1980s. He has inspired the younger generation to become musicians rather than politicians in Mon State.

(For general information and to make a contribution, please contact to Kun Jot Mon at +95-57 22137 in Moulmein, Mon State, Union of Myanmar).


Myanmar expands military presence in new capital
(Daily Times, Pakistan: November 21, 2005) 

Yangon: Myanmar has expanded its military presence in the centre of the country since the reclusive junta set up a new administrative capital in Pyinmana, north of Yangon, a source said on Sunday.

The military set up a new regional command in the mountainous town, 320 kilometres north of Yangon, to handle security operations there, the source close to the military said.

While Pyinmana is already part of Myanmar’s regional command overseeing security in central areas, the military has decided to set up ‘Naypyidaw Regional Military Command’ in line with the creation of the new capital. “The Naypyidaw Regional Command with its headquarters in Pyinmana will control the region where the administrative capital and war office are located,” the source told AFP. The new Pyinmana command brings to 13 the number of Myanmar’s regional military commands.

The relocation of the government has been under preparation for several months. But it is unclear why Myanmar’s military rulers have chosen to move the government to Pyinmana. In a country as secretive as Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, theories have ranged from astrological predictions to worries over urban unrest in Yangon to fears of a US invasion.


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