Saturday, 18 August 2012

Ethnic Peace Vital for Strong Democracy: 88 Gen


The 88 Generation Students at the 62rd anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, on Aug. 12. (Photo: 88 Gen)
The 88 Generation Students at the 62rd anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, on Aug. 12. (Photo: 88 Gen)
Members of the 88 Generation Students group met ethnic political leaders in Karen and Mon states during a recent visit and agreed to work together towards developing peace and a strong democracy in Burma.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Mya Aye, a leader of 88 Generation, said that his group agreed that an ethnic conference should be held in the near future during discussions with senior Karen National Union (KNU) representatives.

“We found from our trip that ethnic people have the capacity to work for the development of their states,” he said. “And now there can be an even larger number of well educated people there as they have a chance to study abroad.”

Several 88 Generation members attended the 62rd anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, on Aug. 12 after being invited by the rebel group.

The KNU is one of the highest profile ethnic armed groups in Burma and has fought for autonomy and Karen rights for 63 years—the longest running armed revolution in the country.

The 88 Generation is currently working on open community projects with the aim of developing a strong democracy. Group leaders stress that Burma must have nationwide ceasefire in order to forge a permanent peace in the country.

Without peace there will be no democracy or protection of human rights, said Mya Aye, adding that abuses occur most in ethnic areas where there is fighting between rebel armies and the government.
“There must be equal rights for ethnic people in order to be able to achieve nationwide peace and stop the fighting,” he added.

Similarly, the 88 Generation Students discussed safeguarding civilian rights during a meeting with ethnic leaders in the Mon State capital Moulmein on Aug. 13.

Min Zay Ya, an ethnic Mon leader of the 88 Generation from Kamarwat Village in Mudon Township, discussed labor rights and protection against illegal land confiscations with representatives of the Mon Democracy Party (MDP) and All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP).

Around 15,000 acres of land used for rubber plantations have been confiscated by government troops locally.

Nai Ngwe Thein, the chairman of the AMDP, said, “I emphasized the issue of land confiscations at the meeting. [The 88 Generation Students] also agreed to help with this. So we will meet again soon to discuss more about how to work towards this goal.”

Nai Soe Myint, an executive committee member for the MDP, said that all relevant groups agreed that tackling the issue of land grabs was a priority.

“We are going to collect lists of the people in Kyaikmayaw Township who have had their lands confiscated by the Zay Kabar Company,” he said. “From our two-day trip, we found a lot people in Yebyu Township have had land confiscated.”

Under the previous military junta, the ethnic states of Burma have faced poverty and stunted development as well as human rights abuses due to five decades of civil war.

“The time is to let [ethnic people] create their fate and their own rights—the right for freedom. So there will no longer be poverty in ethnic states,” said Mya Aye.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Karen leaders warn of renewed conflict

Published: 13 August 2012
The DKBA commemorates Martyrs' Day on 12 August 2012
Karen rebels commemorate Martyrs' Day near Kawthoolei on 12 August 2012 (Hanna Hindstrom)
Karen leaders have warned of renewed war in Burma’s border regions unless the government begins to pursue politically meaningful negotiations with ethnic groups, during their 62th annual Martyrs’ Day celebrations in Kawthoolei on Sunday.

Marking their first open Martyrs’ Day at their rebel headquarters near the Thai border, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) insisted that durable peace remains a distant prospect for the conflict-torn region.

“On the political level, there is no Karen state in the constitution,” Chairperson of the DKBA’s political wing, the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO), Mahn Robert Bazan told DVB in an interview. “Not only Karen, all ethnics need a unitary state. So the future is not good. We want genuine peace. Unless they solve the national problems, there will be war here.”

DKBA leader General Saw Ler Pwe (also known as Na Ka Mwe) told DVB that the government must take concrete steps to address ethnic grievances, including equality and self-determination, or discussions will stall.

“The DKBA will not agree to a peace deal until we believe that it is genuine,” he said. “We need to wait and see.”
Addressing a packed crowd of soldiers and villagers, a KKO representative read out a statement by Karen National Union (KNU) President Saw Tamla Baw slating the government’s peace efforts, in a symbolic display of solidarity with the fellow rebel group.

“The government is engaged only in superficial and apparent activities of peace building with emphasis only on business matters, and without any political essence,” said Saw Tamla Baw. “There is no dispute that the peace aspired to by the Karen people and the one the government in power wants to give are as different as heaven and earth.”

Both the DKBA and KNU have signed tentative ceasefire agreements with the government in the past year, but relations remain volatile as clashes between rebel and government forces continue. The exploitation of the state’s vast natural resources and the controversial 2008 constitution are key sticking points.

The KNU also issued a call for ethnic unity to mark the death of their first national leader Saw Ba U Gyi, as part of ongoing efforts to reconcile the two rebel factions.

“I would like to urge the entire Karen people to work together with the KNU, so that there can be no mistake in every phase of the political dialogue,” said President Saw Tamla Baw.
It follows a deal signed in March, where the two groups agreed to coordinate with each other before negotiating with the government.

The DKBA split from the Christian-led KNU over religious divisions in 1994 to join forces with the military regime, but a faction led by General Saw Ler Pwe took up arms against the government again in 2010 after refusing to transform into a Naypyidaw-controlled Border Guard Force. The DKBA has since sought to repair its relationship with the KNU, including changing its name from “Buddhist” to “benevolent” army to downplay religious differences.

“The next step of the process will be to cooperate with the KNU by building up trust and honesty,” said Saw Ler Pwe. “This conflict is not about religion, it is about equality.”

While refugees have been returning to the areas surrounding Kawthoolei, which were razed by Burmese troops in 2010, many Karen are skeptical that the ceasefire will last.

“I think they are playing a game with us,” said 41-year Nawah, who works on the Thai border. “They won’t give Karen people a true peace deal.”

The KNU is set to hold their next round of negotiations with the government at the end of this month, but it is unlikely to deliver substantial progress.

“We will not have political talks at this meeting. We will just talk about a code of conduct to regulate their troops,” Vice-Chairman David Tharkabaw told the Irrawaddy last week. “They should stop activities, especially rights abuses. If they violate the code of conduct, we will withdraw our ceasefire agreement.”
The DKBA is yet to set a date for their next round of talks with the government.

Kachin youths arrested in connection with KIO

Kachin youths in Myitkyina and other major cities in Kachin State have been arrested for making contact with KIO in the past. Those arrested have previously attended “Education and Economic Development for Youth”, a training course administered by KIO’s youth department during 17-years of ceasefire with Burmese military government.
Lahtaw Tang Gun (age 23) of Dapkawng quarter, Htingraw La Sam and Gum Ring of Sanpra quarter, have been arrested by Burmese government authorities from their homes in Myitkyina on Aug 4. They have been accused of making contacts with KIO and telling Burmese army’s movement to KIO, said a local.
KIO’s youth department had conducted a series of training sessions aimed at educating Kachin history, promoting awareness of local roots and economic development for Kachin youths during ceasefire period.
Whereabouts of Kachin youths who have been detained by the authorities are still unknown. A local Christian minister said that they can’t even sleep well at nights because of government’s suspicions and arbitrary arrests.

From Kachinland News Media

A strong democratic front needed in Burma

(Commentary) – The 24th anniversary commemoration of the 1988 uprising on Thursday by Min Ko Naing and the 88-generation students was a remarkable event in the healing for both the 88-students group and the government.
Left to right, 88-Generation student leaders Jimmy, Hla Myo Naung, Htay Kywe, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Min Zaya and Aung Thu at a press conference in Rangoon in January 2012. Photo: Mizzima
Left to right, 88-Generation student leaders Jimmy, Hla Myo Naung, Htay Kywe, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Min Zaya and Aung Thu at a press conference in Rangoon in January 2012. Photo: Mizzima

Again, President Thein Sein has shown an enormous capacity for reconciliation towards the generation of students who were jailed for a quarter of a century, ran to the ground, driven out of the country and regarded as public enemy No. 1 by the military dictatorship.

The president dispatched two state ministers to deliver a check to the 88-student group, to help fund the commemoration ceremony held in Mandalay.

It is an extraordinary turn around for the general-turned-head of state of an emerging democracy like Burma.

It is a good day whenever national healing takes place between the military-backed government and the one-time student dissidents.

When healing takes place, trust follows as a natural consequence. When trust develops, then true reconciliation can take place.

When President Thein Sein first invited Suu Kyi to Naypyitaw prior it was likened to a Mandela-moment by the world press. Now with the president handing an olive branch to the powerful group of leaders of the 88 uprising, one cannot help muse about whether this moment has a potential for the student leaders to create something like the ANC (African National Congress) in South Africa. It was the powerful ANC together with Mandela who negotiated a pact with de klerk to work on a transition to genuine democracy.

Maybe the 88 student leaders could draw all the democratic and ethnic parties in Burma together to form a collective democratic front like the ANC in South Africa and build up a powerful political bloc. If any group can achieve it, it will be the 88 student leaders.

However, the balance of power in Burma right now is too lopsided for genuine reconciliation to happen.

Unless all the democratic parties big and small can coalesce behind a single collective front, there can be no genuine reconciliation to come about in the near future.

Min Ko Naing and his group of student leaders are in a perfect position to be the catalyst in networking and bringing together all the stakeholders among the democratic elements, large and small.

They have the gravitas, the energy, the verve and the political clout to do so. One can only hope that Min Ko Naing can bring about the Burmese version of the ANC and together with Suu Kyi build up a powerful democratic bloc before the 2015 election.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

KNU Doubts Govt Peace Efforts


Railways Minister Aung Min, far left, meets KNU representatives in Pa-an, Karen State, on Jan. 11. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Burmese government is avoiding real political dialogue despite claiming that it wants to build peace with ethnic armed groups, claims the Karen National Union (KNU).

KNU Chairman Tamla Baw released a statement to commemorate Karen martyrs’ day on Aug. 12 which highlighted the fragile nature of the current ceasefire that was first signed in January.

“Though the government claims to be building peace with armed ethnic nationality forces, it is my analysis that, in practice, it is working with an emphasis only on business matters, rather than dialogue for peace with a political essence,” he said.

“There is no doubt that the peace our Karen people want and the peace [the government] wants to give our people are not currently aligned.”

David Takapaw, the vice-chairman of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese government cannot be attacking Kachin rebels on one side while simultaneously making peace with other ethnic armed groups.
He said that the Karen people faced a similar situation to the Kachin in the past when the government made peace with the other groups while still waging war against the KNU—part of a long-term strategy to eliminate ethnic armies one-by-one.

Political issues have always been the cause of ethnic conflicts in Burma, said Tamla Baw, adding that fighting will only cease after real political dialogue. He added that the Karen people’s revolutionary resistance has lasted for 63 years but still remains a “national liberation movement” as its goals have not yet been reached.
“We have learned bitter lessons a number of times in our national liberation movement because of the sowing of division and discord,” said Tamla Baw.

The KNU vowed to continue the four principle of group founder Saw Ba U Gyi—surrender is out of the question; the recognition of Karen State must be completed; we shall retain our arms; we shall decide our own political destiny.

Tamla Baw said that as the current government gained power in the 2010 general election, which was based on the widely-condemned 2008 Constitution, there was still a need for further political reform. He said that many of the recent changes were simply to appease the international community.

The KNU signed a peace agreement with government negotiators on Jan. 12—the first in a 63-year struggle against the Burmese regime. The adversaries are due to hold a third round of peace talks in the Karen State capital Pa-an on Aug. 27-29.

“We will not have political talks at this meeting. We will just talk about a code of conduct to regulate their troops,” said David Takapaw. “They should stop activities, especially rights abuses. If they violate the code of conduct, we will withdraw our ceasefire agreement.”

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Min Ko Naing’s 88 Uprising Video Tribute

Min Ko Naing in his video tribute to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1988 democracy uprising. (Photo: 88 Gen)
 Min Ko Naing in his video tribute to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1988 democracy uprising. (Photo: 88 Gen)

“Today is the day when we came out among the explosives and cheered our slogan. We were beaten by the butts of guns and batons on the street during our demonstration,” Min Ko Naing, a leader of 88 Generation Students group, said in a video speech to mark the 24th anniversary of the popular uprising.
“Sometimes when we walked down the street, our flag fell down when we were challenged. But we picked it up again and displayed it in the rain. We had to struggle very hard for the last 24 years.”

Min Kon Naing was a 26-year-old zoology student at Rangoon Arts and Science University during the mass demonstration on Aug. 8, 1988. He helped lead the student activists and spent many years in prison as a consequence, while at least 3,000 of those who took part were gunned down by the then-military junta.
Min Ko Naing recollected the events of that fateful day during a broadcast to highlight the current political changes underway and prospects for national reconciliation.

“A lot of flashes from cameras hit us today unlike over the past 24 years,” he said. “Today, we put up our flag on the wall and even put our full flag on the carpet at our office.”

The anniversary of the 88 uprising was marked in Mandalay, Burma second biggest city, where Min Ko Naing and other leaders of the 88 Generation Students joined hundreds of democracy activists.
Railways Minister Aung Min, Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator with ethnic armed groups, donated one million kyat (US $1,250) towards the occasion. Aung Min met group leaders in Mandalay on Tuesday and said that his visit was conducted with the blessing of President Thein Sein.

The 88 Generation Students viewed the donation as a contribution towards national reconciliation in recognition of their activities.

“There is a big political change in our country. It is a historic change. If we had to ask, who made this change? The answer is the people,” said Min Ko Naing. “We want our people to remember that there is political change because of them. They wrote this history. We want the people to consider what more they can do in the future.

“Regarding national reconciliation, the president said that he wants all-inclusive politics. But there are our comrades who remain behind bars. There are also ethnic people who are behind bars for feeding one meal to the rebels. There should be no political prisoners.

“Burma’s Parliament is tightly controlled by military uniforms, but despite this there has been change as there was a single party Parliament in the past. Yet today there are many political parties in Parliament.”

Regarding the life of factory workers, Min Ko Naing said, “If we look at our sisters who work in textile factories, they suffer from poverty and a lack of education. If we look at their packed lunch, they do not have even one egg for a meal. This is how they have to struggle in their daily lives.

“There are educated people who stay abroad and ask us if they need to come back. We are constructing roads. If you want to walk on a smooth road, the time is now to cooperate with us. To be able to sing a song of victory beside the Irrawaddy River, we all need to cooperate to write the words.”

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Political prisoner beaten at Insein


Published : 2 August 2012

Officials at Rangoon’s Insein prison beat a political prisoner, who was being transferred from Arakan state’s Sittwe prison to Pegu’s Tharawaddy prison, during a brief stopover at the facility on 31 July.
An Insein official Maung Maung Gyi along with prison guards assaulted Aung Thu, a political prisoner

 who was among 170 inmates moved from Sittwe prison, when he questioned them about seizing the transferred inmates’ food, reported the victim’s father Kyaw Thin.

“So he asked them about seizing the items and Maung Maung Gyi and the guards dragged him like a dog and beat him up. They told him ‘you layabouts are making a business out of politics’ and cursed him,” said Kyaw Thin, who was able to speak to his son by phone.

“He said he was handcuffed to a pole and beaten up. He sounded like he was crying.”
Kyaw Thin said he would file a lawsuit against the perpetrators who attacked Aung Thu.
Htun Kyi, spokesperson of Former Political Prisoners Organisation, said the group strongly condemns the official’s mistreatment of Aung Thu.

“Now the country is in the process of a peaceful transition. However, prison authorities, even after transition into a civilian government, are still treating political prisoners in the same way they did under the previous military junta and we strongly condemn this,” said Htun Kyi.

Earlier this week, about 200 inmates from prisons across Arakan state were transferred to different locations across the country, including two political prisoners Aung Thu from Sittwe prison and Aye Min Phyo from Butheedaung prison.

Aung Thu was a first-year university student when he was arrested in 200 and sentenced to 15 years in prison after being charged for violating a plethora of laws including the immigration and unlawful association act.

According to statistics by the FPPO, there are more than 300 political inmates behind bars in prisons across Burma.

Speech of General Aung San