Friday, July 26, 2013

This is an Honor for All of Us’

Lahpai Seng Raw, co-founder of the Rangoon-based Metta Development Foundation, sits with her son Brang Lai in front of their home. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

My first role model was the late Maran Brang Seng, who was chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). He encouraged me to become involved in work to improve the situation of destitute Kachin communities along the borderlands of northern Myanmar. Today, I thank him and the KIO leadership for directing me on this path. ..."

An ethnic Kachin woman who co-founded Burma’s largest civil society organization was awarded with this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize, along with four other Asian leaders. Lahpai Seng Raw, a stay-at-home mother turned social worker who helped launch the Rangoon-based Metta Development Foundation, which provides support to displaced people in Burma’s conflict-torn areas, says she was inspired by other Kachin leaders in her 40s. In an interview with The Irrawaddy this week, she said the prestigious award was an achievement that she shared with her colleagues, and added that the honor was a reminder that much work remains to help the people of Burma, also known as Myanmar, as the country transitions from military rule.
Question: First of all, can you share your thoughts and feelings about receiving such a prestigious award, which is the Asian equivalent to the Nobel Prize?
Answer: I was amazed when I first heard about it on July 12, while I was traveling to Lashio [in Shan State]. I am deeply honored by this award, but also humbled in the knowledge that I owe it all to the host of wonderful friends, colleagues and partners at home and abroad who have sustained me in my work with their wise counsel, help and encouragement. So I accept this award not as a personal honor, but as a celebration of our collective achievement.
I handed over the Foundation’s leadership role to a new generation two years ago. This honor is a force for our foundation, to the new generation, to keep up the work we are doing. There are many displaced people all over our country, including in my state, Kachin State. As you know, tens of thousands of Kachin refugees are among those who have been displaced in Burma due to unstable ceasefires. As the president [Thein Sein] said, only after negotiations are made and sustainable peace is built can the refugee issue be solved. I reckon the honor comes at just the right time, while our country is on the path of reform. It also highlights that much still needs to be done.
Q: What is your role in the Foundation, after leaving your leadership position in 2011?
A: I have been working in social development for more than 20 years, since 1987. I will keep supporting those individuals or groups who I have been helping. For our country’s reforms, our civil society group must be effective. We still have to keep up a lot. I will serve again on the Foundation’s board of trustees this coming September.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the Foundation and its present work?
A: I began providing assistance for community development in 1987. After a decade assisting people in the communities, the Metta Development Foundation was formed in November 1997, several years after ceasefires were made with ethnic armed groups in Burma. It [the Foundation] provides support for community development for the ethnic [communities] in these areas.
Q: What are the specific activities of the Foundation?
A: We support the community’s needs, which involves agricultural awareness, education, health care, and relief and social rehabilitation works. For example, rehabilitation in the post-Nargis [cyclone] period was not only a matter of building shelters, but also raising awareness among teachers and parents about hygiene as well as environmental issues. … We focus on the community’s proposal to implement a project, based on their decision, which is the most beneficial for them.
Q: When you started the Foundation under the previous military regime, what challenges did you face?
A: We were able to travel to areas where international organizations could not go. The locals also cooperated with us. We did not face huge challenges implementing our projects, except for the lack of international aid. If we had secured more foreign aid or technical assistance under the previous government, we would have done more.
Q: When you traveled, were you be able to work in ethnic areas affected by civil wars?
A: Of course, we were able to work in areas where ceasefire agreements were signed. We have also expanded our reach to help people displaced by natural disasters, not only man-made disasters, since 2004. We provided support to the tsunami victims in 2004, to the 2008 Cyclone Nargis victims in the Irrawaddy Delta, and in 2010 to the Cyclone Giri victims in Arakan State. Our support was not limited to a region. When local residents informed us about their need for help, we would reach them.
Q: Were there any other co-founders?
A: Yes, I am one of four founders of the Foundation. Actually, the four of us, we are all women who share the same commitment—two Karen ladies, another Kachin lady and I started it with US$20,000 in funding. We supported the development of agriculture, health care, education and hygiene development. Now the Foundation has expanded through multi-ethnic collaboration, with ethnic Mon and Shan representatives. My current successor is a Shan man, Dr. Sai Sam Kham. He took the leadership role in September 2011.
Q: Do you have any plans for how you’ll use your cash prize?
A:  In keeping with my commitment to work for sustainable peace and a development process that spreads evenly across the country, I pledge to use the prize money for projects that will protect and preserve the Myitsone area in northern Myanmar and that will provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for communities there. We provided agricultural and breeding support as well as forestry preservation assistance before the residents were relocated to new villages. Today the area is under threat from a dam project [currently postponed], which poses grave dangers to its delicate ecosystem, its cultural and religious heritage sites and its communities, displaced and deprived of land and livelihood.
Q: What was the driving force behind your decision to get involved in social development?
A: I was a stay-at-home mom in Myitkyina [the state capital of Kachin State] before getting involved in the field. Many people impressed me—those who were dedicated to our country and weren’t taking advantage of it for their own sakes. I was working with them, including ethnic leaders, and they inspired me. My first role model was the late Maran Brang Seng, who was chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). He encouraged me to become involved in work to improve the situation of destitute Kachin communities along the borderlands of northern Myanmar. Today, I thank him and the KIO leadership for directing me on this path. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to the government of Myanmar, for opening the door for me to openly and freely initiate programs that would assist conflict-affected communities after the 1994 ceasefire agreements. The active young people in the communities are also a force that keeps me working in the field.
Q: There are many young philanthropists in Burma. What advice would you give to those who are working with civil society groups?
A: I want to encourage other women as well as the youth to try hard on their tasks, whether they perform philanthropic work individually or with a group. The power of civil society groups is significant in moving toward change in our country. The recognition of the RMAF [the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation]to a Myanmar citizen shows that civil society groups in Burma are capable of change. This is an honor for all of us.
By  Irrawaddy

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bawk Ja, the Candidate of Kamaing Kachin State was arrested by police at Mohnyin


Bawk Ja, the Candidate of Kamaing in Election 2010 against Minister Ohn Myint, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, the person who sue Yuzana Company for land grabbing in Hugaung Valley in Kachin State was arrested by police at Mohnyin, Kachin State, this evening. She will be send to Myitkyina tomorrow.

ေဒၚေဘာက္ဂ်ာ၊ ၂၀၁၀ ေရြးေကာက္ပြဲတြင္ ေမြးျမဴေရးႏွင့္ ေရလုပ္ငန္း၀န္ၾကီးဌာန ၀န္ၾကီး ဦးအံုးျမင္႔၊ ယုဇန ကုမၼဏီအား ဟူးေကာင္းေဒသတြင္ ေျမသိမ္းမႈျဖင္႕ တရားစြဲသူအား ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံရဲတပ္ဖြဲ႕မွ ယေန႕ညေနတြင္ မိုးညွင္းျမိဳ႕၌ ဖမ္းဆီးသြားပါသည္။ သူမအား မနက္ဖန္ ညေနတြင္ ျမစ္ၾကီးနားျမိဳ႕သို႕ ပို႕ေဆာင္မည္ ျဖစ္သည္။

Shayi Bawk Ja hpe daina de MoHnyin mare kaw rim la mat wa sai. Hpawt de Myitkyina de sa na re. ....

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kachin update- China’s involvement with Burmese Army reinforcement and BA attacked the KIA position

Dear Friends, This letter is to provide an update on the situation in Kachinland to the stakeholders who have been involved in the Kachin peace process. We have received very disturbing news reports that Chinese security forces are helping reinforcement and ration supply to a Burmese military outpost in Mu Bum close to Loije and Nongdaofenchang, Dehong, Yunnan, China. This is not the first time we have received such a report. The Embassy of the People's Republic of China clarified that they are not aware of such an incident on the border. The following are the reports we received from our frontlines. 11 JUL 2013, 1235 hours: Myanmar government troops from Infantry 69 entered KIA 27th Battalion area in Maji Kung and attacked the KIA position. No casualty reported. KIA captured 106 MA bullets and 2 PRG ammunitions. 12 JUL 2013, 1910 hours: at the KIA 27 battalion area, Baw Hill between Hu Bung and Hka Pra Yang, Burmese Army (BA) troops from Infantry 69 and KIA troops clashed, 2 casualties from the BA reported. The Burmese Army ended a 17-year ceasefire in Kachin State and this is the stage were we are rebuilding trust for further peace negotiations, but the daily attacks by the Burmese Army question their commitment to the peace process. China’s involvement with Burmese Army reinforcement and ration supply to Burmese Army outpost. Under the security cover of the People's Republic of China, Myanmar government strengthened Mu Bum post with 100 troops and 9 tons of rice yesterday 11 July 2013, taking advantage of the darkness. Mu Bum has been captured by Myanmar government troops from the KIA in 1991 and at the height of the government offensives in January of this year, heinous human rights violations occurred at Mu Bum like the disappearance of rape victim Sumlut Roi Ja, captured and taken to Mu Bum by the troops stationed there. Chinese citizen Zau Lawn has also been murdered by the same troops. Myanmar government Light Infantry Battalion 437 from Northern Command is based at Mu Bum, the new arrival is Infantry 121. Such incidences are ongoing and not the first time such allegations have been raised against Chinese security forces. Chinese security forces must immediately stop providing assistance to the Burmese Army forces conducting military offensives against Kachin people that have already caused the loss of countless innocent lives and a mass humanitarian crisis. We welcome China to play a constructive role towards peace negotiations for political change and peace. However, the Kachin people have questions over the credibility and sincerity of China’s role in future peace negotiations when Chinese security forces are aiding the Burmese armed forces. The Chinese government must stop aiding the Burmese armed forces directly or indirectly causing instability in Kachinland. On the occasion of President Thein Sein official visit to Britain, we urge the British government and the international community to strongly pressure President Thein Sein to immediately stop all military offensives against ethnic populations across the country and pursue a genuine commitment for peace in Burma. Sincerely, -- ----------- Information & Public Relations

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A State of Anxiety


Posted By Min Zin Share

I visited Burma for the first time in 16 years last December. Back then I felt relative optimism about our country's political transition -- despite its deepening poverty, the ongoing war against the Kachin ethnic group, and sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims. The release of hundreds of political prisoners, the emergence of a free press, and Aung San Suu Kyi's electoral victory in the 2012 by-elections gave people reason to hope that the country would soon be free and developed.
Now I've come back, and this time I see a totally different country. The winds of change are carrying a bad smell rather than fresh air. Anti-Muslim hate speech and riots have spread to major cities, and Buddhist monks are aggressively interfering in our multi-ethnic polity by pushing a draft law that restricts inter-faith marriages. The monks are even threatening politicians who refuse to endorse their bill with retaliation when the country holds its next general election three years from now. There's no doubt that elements within both the ruling elite and the political opposition are taking advantage of rising ultra-nationalism by either jumping on the bandwagon or dodging responsibility for tackling the problem. Horrible as this is, it's not just ethnic and religious minority groups that are being attacked. Women, too, are increasingly becoming victims of ideological extremism and political opportunism, as manifested by the draft law on inter-faith marriage. 
But perhaps the most worrisome trend in Burma these days is a widening split between the president and the powerful speaker of the lower house of parliament. Worst of all, part of the responsibility for the resulting anxiety lies with Aung San Suu Kyi, since she has decided to side with Speaker Thura Shwe Mann against the government.
Since the start of the political opening and the initial negotiations between Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein in 2011, observers have noted that a stable relationship among the three leading figures in the country -- the president, the speaker of the house, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- is critical to the success of Burma's reform. There has been a constant personal (and to some extent institutional) rivalry between the president and the speaker almost from the beginning of the current transition. But despite everything the two men's relationship has never been as ugly as it is right now.
Most recently, the speaker has challenged the government's approach to peace talks with the ethnic rebel groups, demanding parliament's direct involvement in ceasefire negotiations with the Kachin. "I've been informed by some lawmakers and through public opinion that the peace talks have failed to achieve peace," Shwe Mann told parliament.
He has even called for a meeting of National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), the military-dominated eleven-member body that holds wide-ranging powers, in order to discuss the executive's handling of the peace issue. This unusual attempt to activate the NDSC, which has not met for some time, raised the eyebrows of several observers who once viewed the speaker of the house as a champion of reform. 
It is now clear that Shwe Mann's move was intended to weaken President Thein Sein and his reformist aides from the government think tank, the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC). The president is reportedly being strongly considered as a candidate to win the Nobel Peace Prize later this year for his reforms, and any major fallout from the intensifying power struggle within the troika could damage his credibility and even put proposed reforms off track.
But even before Shwe Mann began his public criticism of the government's peace initiative, Aung San Suu Kyi said in late May that the government's reform measures in recent years "have produced no tangible changes" for the rule of law and peace in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi's unofficial alliance with Shwe Mann against the government, therefore, has become the biggest constraint on Thein Sein's power.
Many people in intellectual circles and the business community worry that Aung San Suu Kyi is in the wrong political camp. Civil society activists are dismayed by her political maneuvering within the elite and her neglect of the population's more immediate problems, ranging from ethno-religious conflicts to dire poverty. It seems that all stakeholders, including the ethnic groups, will be forced to take sides in this escalating power struggle as the 2015 elections approach.
All observers, in any case, tend to agree that the political situation in Burma this year is becoming a serious cause for anxiety. One last thing that could compound these concerns is the lack of clarity about the military's preferences. No one knows whether the head of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, will choose to take sides in this power struggle, or whether he entertains political ambitions of his own. If the latter is the case, it would almost certainly complicate Burma's political transition and perhaps disrupt the reform process. Given the recent events in Egypt, there seems good reason to be worried about the possibility of a fresh military coup in Burma as well. 
Min Zin is the Burma blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here. 

KIO( Kachin )turns military headquarter into a boarding school


Published on July 10, 2013

Opening ceremony of a boarding school was held at Hpung Mai hall in Laiza on July 9 at 9 am. The combined boarding school which accommodates 1725 middle and high school students is located at Alen Bum, the former KIA’s military headquarter, in Laiza. 107 teachers and school staffs are currently serving at the boarding school. The school is administered by KIO’s education department and funded by KIO, NGOs and the parents.
Sara Kaba Sumlut Gam, head of KIO’s education department, urged teachers and school staffs to serve as positive role models for the students during the ceremony. The school’s headmaster Sara Maru Hkawng Lum chaired the opening ceremony and Sara Kaba Lasang Tu San led a prayer of dedication for the school and the students.
Sara Hkawng Lum said, “there are a lot of needs for the students such as clothes, food, and books as most parents cannot provide for their children because they themselves are displaced”. He said KIO plans to provide free education and boarding for IDP children and assistance from other organizations will be helpful.
Another boarding school, Htoi Ningshawng School, which is located at Wung Gau hill and administered by KIO Youth Committee was opened on May 18, 2013. Htoi Ningshawng School currently accommodates 100 students from 3rd-10th grades.
There are about 40,000 war-affected children out of over 100,000 IDPs currently living in about two dozen camps along China-Burma border. The education of those 40,000 school-age children has been disrupted by renewed conflict between Kachin Independence Army and Burmese Army in Kachin and northern Shan State.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Burma’s supreme seat of power


Published: 3 July 2013
Kachin farmer Dau Lum holds a picture of his wife, who was abducted by the Burmese military more than 20 months ago. (Photo by Edward Chung Ho)
A 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and Burma’s military unraveled in dramatic fashion in June 2011, unleashing some of the heaviest fighting to hit the country since the Second World War.
The resumption of hostilities in Kachin state, which began some three months after Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took office, has brought untold misery upon the more than 100,000 civilians estimated by the UN to have been displaced by the conflict that’s now in its second year.
Dau Lum, a 31-year-old Kachin farmer from Hkai Bang, a small village close to the Chinese border knows firsthand that despite a series of substantial democratic reforms Burma’s military continues to reign supreme.
A potentially precedent setting habeas corpus case filled by Dau Lum in early 2012 accusing the government of having unlawfully abducted his 28-year-old wife was quickly dismissed by Burma’s supreme court, in a terse ruling absolving the infamous Tatmadaw of any wrong doing.
Speaking via a crackling Chinese cell phone from the poorly equipped internally displaced persons (IDP) camp where he now lives on the Sino-Burmese border, Dau Lum recounts the horrific events that took place the last day he ever saw his wife alive. October 28, 2011 started out as fairly normal day for Dau Lum, who with his wife Sumlut Roi Ja and his elderly father were busy harvesting corn on their hillside farm near Maijayang, the second largest town controlled by the KIO.
Despite the fact that fighting had been going on between the military and the KIO for several months, Dau Lum and his family had yet to face the full effects of the conflict which had not yet spread to their area, that is until late in the afternoon when six heavily armed Burmese soldiers suddenly appeared at his farm, surrounding him, his wife and his father.
With guns drawn the soldiers accused Dau Lum and his 70-year father of being KIO soldiers. A bitter irony considering Dau Lum’s father had served in the Tatmadaw in the 1970s. Despite their protests that they were just simple farmers the soldiers tied Dau Lum and his father up and ordered them to carry their corn to the Mu Bum military base located on a nearby hill top. Although she was left untied Dau Lum’s young wife Roi Ja was also compelled to follow, according to Dau Lum.
“Before dismissing the case the court did not take into account the detailed evidence we submitted”
About twenty minutes into the march along the steep mountain path Dau Lam says he and his father managed to break free of their ropes and get away by jumping down a ravine, narrowly escaping a hail of gunfire in the process. Roi Ja who was being closely guarded by the troops was unable to get away, explains Dau Lum, in a heavily Kachin accented Burmese.
“I have many things to say but I can’t speak out. I’ve cried many times since my wife was arrested and I have difficulty sleeping and no appetite,” adds Dau Lum.
Compounding his difficulties Dau Lum’s now two and half year old daughter Lum Nor, has been robbed of her mother. “After my wife was arrested, my daughter cried for her mother to come,” says Dau Lum before adding that his daughter’s first words were “mum”. He remains unsure how he will tell her what happened to Roi Ja, partially because he doesn’t know.
“Whenever my daughter sees some of her friends accompanied with their parents, she asks where her mother is. For me it is very hard to reply. I lie to her and say her mother has gone away to buy a snack,” Dau Lum said.
Life has been difficult since Dau Lum was forced to abandon his farm the day the alleged abduction took place. Thanks to the conflict, his once prosperous cornfield has been transformed into a land mine laden no man’s land situated between two opposing sides who continue to shoot at each other from time to time, this despite a recent series of positive negotiating sessions.
Dau Lum, who for many years served as his family’s main bread winner has the added responsibility of not just looking after his daughter but also his elderly parents and siblings, a task made increasingly difficult by the fact that he’s been forced to take shelter in an IDP camp where he has little means to earn a living. In the camp he lives alongside his fellow villagers who all evacuated from their farms when heavy fighting broke out nearby just days after Roi Ja disappeared.
In the days that followed her alleged abduction several witnesses using binoculars saw Roi Ja inside Mu Bum base, surrounded on three sides by the KIO with the fourth side against the Chinese border. On at least one instance Roi Ja was dressed in a Burmese military uniform and appeared to be paraded around for the soldiers entertainment. The sightings ceased after less than a week giving rise to suspicions that Roi Ja met an unnatural end.
Dau Lum’s attempt to seek justice using the Naypyidaw-based Supreme Court ended without any satisfaction says Mar Khar, a human rights lawyer based in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina. Shortly after hearing about what happened Mar Khar took up the case launching a habeas corpus challenge made possible under the new and largely pro-military constitution.
“Before dismissing the case the court did not take into account the detailed evidence we submitted,” said Mar Khar who has pursued several other high-profile cases involving Kachin civilians detained during the conflict, all with similar outcomes.
In their decision the judges said there was a lack of evidence citing the government’s claim that neither Dau Lum nor his father had taken steps to inform government authorities about the incident immediately after it reportedly happened. This despite the fact that On 4 November 2011, less than a week after the alleged abduction took place, Dau Lum’s father sent three near identical letters to the Kachin state chief minister, the Bhamo District governor and a local military commander who heads Battalion 321, which includes the Mubum base, recounting what he witnessed. The letters, which requested that his daughter in law be released immediately, never received any reply.
The fact that Dau Lum and his father were barred from testifying during the hearings in Naypyidaw, although military personnel from the unit alleged to be involved were given this opportunity, added to the widely held view in Burma that the country’s highest court is not even remotely independent. Part of a judiciary that experts claim has not changed at all since the days of strict military rule.
In September 2012, a leading Kachin advocacy group the Kachin Women Association Thailand (KWAT) wrote an open letter to President Thein Sein urging him to immediately authorise a retrial of the Roi Ja case. This request was also met with no response.
“We have no way, no place to find justice for the person who has suffered human rights abuses or violence committed by the government’s army,” said Moon Nay Li from the advocacy team at KWAT. “[The] military still has the power in Burma.”
Despite mounting criticism of Burma’s legal system has kept with up with pace of reform, Soe Thane, a former general who serves as the country’s investment minister claimed during a panel discussion held as part of the World Economic Forum in Naypyidaw that the country’s judiciary had made great strides as of late. A claim met with scepticism by his co-panelist opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Although the fighting in northern Burma has lessened significantly since January, when military aircraft carried out unprecedented air strikes against KIO positions, things are far from stable in Kachin state.
A coalition of 60 Kachin community organisations and Burma campaign groups based in 21 countries recently held a global day of action to mark the second anniversary of the end of Kachin ceasefire. A joint statement released by the groups involved accused the Burmese military of committing serious war crimes.
“Kachin civilians have suffered from human rights violations, including rape of women and children, arbitrary execution, torture, forced labour, mortar bombing, burning and looting of villages,” the statement read.
During a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, Lt-Gen Myint Soe, the commander who oversees the army’s operations in Kachin state, refuted criticism of the military’s conduct during the Kachin conflict.
“Don’t believe everything you hear. There are many rumors, endless rumors,” he said.
Myint Soe’s pronouncement gives cold comfort to Dau Lum, who faces a very uncertain future.
“I don’t expect to see my wife again.”
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