Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Weekly Highlights: Unity Must Prevail

 

1 - 7 September 2014

Weekly Highlights

Unity Must Prevail


After its organizational conference held on a Thailand-Burma border area, disagreements between the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and the Karen National Union (KNU) has led to the KNU suspending its' membership of the UNFC, a setback for the peace process. While this strikes a blow into the government engineered narrative that the peace process is making substantial progress, it is particularly worrying for the ethnic communities that have been suffering from this conflict for decades.

Ostensibly, disagreements over organizational structure have caused this rift, although there are also disagreements within the KNU leadership itself over its position in the UNFC, leading to fears of a split within what has traditionally been the most prominent ethnic armed group. Previous Burma regimes have used divide and rule tactics to weaken armed resistance and to sabotage ethnic unity and it is imperative that this does not happen now.  As ethnic leaders squabble over leadership structures, surely much to the delight of the leaders of the Burma Army, it is the most vulnerable populations who feel the pressures, while the government manages to convince elements of the international community that a peace settlement is just around the corner. It is crucial that whatever reason for the KNU's withdrawal from the UNFC, they must put the ethnic communities at the forefront of their decision making.

This upheaval is of particular concern for the approximately 130,000 refugees who live in camps along the Thailand-Burmese border, the majority of whom are ethnically Karen. Refugee communities are already feeling the pressure to return given the recent political events in Thailand. Since the military government came into power in Thailand on 22 May, confusion has reigned over the futures of people in the camps. Contradictory statements regarding their return to Burma, as well as top-level meetings between the two militaries, the results of which lack transparency, is giving the impression that organized return is imminent. A verification headcount undertaken by the Thai Army, and tightened restrictions of movement for refugees is creating a tense scenario in the camps. Furthermore, reductions of rations, health and education services by key donors is adding more pressure and making conditions in the camps unbearable so that they feel that they will have no choice but to return to Burma soon.

Yet for these refugees, many of the conditions that forced them to flee Burma in the first place are still in existence. The Burma Army has increased its presence in Karen areas, taking advantage of the ceasefire by refortifying their bases and resupplying troop positions. Comprehensive landmine clearance has yet to commence, while unscrupulous private interests, often in conjunction with the Burma Army and its proxy forces, are grabbing land on an endemic scale, disempowering local people and negatively affecting their livelihood opportunities. It is evident therefore that it is not time to organize return of refugees, especially one organized by military actors. As Naw Dah Eh Kler, chairperson of the Karen Women's Organization stated in a Bangkok Post article  recently, "We plead with the Thai government to follow international standards for returning them, ensuring that the refugee's rights are not violated." A premature return certainly has the potential for their rights to indeed be violated.

Thus, with pressure on ethnic armed groups to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord and pressure on the refugee communities to return while the preconditions necessary to ensure the return will be safe and dignified not yet established, unity among ethnic armed groups is crucial. Furthermore, it is imperative that the voices of the communities that are affected by the conflict, particularly refugees and the voices of women that have thus far been largely excluded from the peace process, are included in talks. The Burma government must not further enflame tensions between ethnic groups as it did so skillfully in the past. The international community must also support not just the Burma government's peace agenda, as it does through the Myanmar Peace Center, but also ethnic efforts, particularly those from civil society. The peace process is going to be a long haul, knowing that armed conflict between the central Burman dominated government and ethnic armed groups has existed for over 60 years. Therefore it is vital that the Burma government prioritizes self-determination, ethnic equality, and the protection of the human rights of ethnic minorities in its peace agenda. 

News Highlights


Burma's Union Election Commission cancels by-elections planned for later this year to fill 35 empty parliamentary seats

Karen Women's Organization, along with other Karen community based organizations, urges Thailand to follow international standards for returning them, ensuring that the refugees' human rights are not violated, while raising concerns regarding their living conditions in the camps along the Thailand-Burma border as international donors pull funding and Thai authorities conduct headcounts in all nine camps

Inside Burma

An armed fight between Shan State Army-South and Pa-O National Liberation Army breaks out around the village of NongTon Ki in Mauk Mae Township, in southern Shan State

During the meeting with a delegation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) led by former Malaysian Foreign Minister in Arakan State, Burma local authorities rejects the OIC's request to be present in the state as well as their humanitarian assistance

In Ye Township, Mon State, the Chinese company CONCH purchase several acres of land in a bid to construct stone production factories for paving roads, while New Mon State Party prohibits Chinese businessmen from doing so

The North Okkalapa Court in Rangoon sentences land-rights activist Htin Kyaw, who has already been handed eight years imprisonment sentenced by 10 other township courts, to another one year and four months in prison with hard labor

Regional

After the eighth rounds of consultations between the governments of Bangladesh and Burma, Bangladesh announces it will repatriate over 2,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees to Burma, amid the concerns about the prospect of returning them to an increasingly dire situation

Burma's parliament speaker Thura Shwe Mann to pay an official visit to Vietnam to enhance ties between the two nations' legislative bodies 

 

International

German Chancellor Angela Merkel promises further economic support for Burma if it holds fair elections next year and does more to protect ethnic minorities

Canada vows to encourage its Canadian companies to consider new investment opportunities in Burma

Burmese Muslim Association rejects Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri's statement unveiling their new focus on Burma, Bangladesh and India, and urges people to live together in harmony regardless of racial and religious differences 

Opinion

No More Dams on the Mekong
By David Roberts
The New York Times

Making a Mockery of Democracy
By Birtil Linter
The Irrawaddy 

Latest from the Blog

Draconian Sentences of Unity Weekly Journalists Must at the Very Least be Drastically Reduced
By Burma Partnership  

 

Actions

TAKE ACTION! Write to president Thein Sein, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of U Sein Than

In Sagaing, more than 30 university students protest against the controversial draft of National Educational Bill approved by the Union Parliament a couple of months ago, saying it indoctrinates a system of slavery rather than being capable of producing modern, educated citizens

Over 1,000 villagers in Mandalay region protest against mining companies activities on their land, which has lead to displacement of over 150 households, and they condemn the breaching of boundary lines and expansion of mining activities onto legally recognized village land

A group of local villagers living in Twante Township, western Rangoon, to send a petition to Thein Sein to protest against plans to build an extensive residential and commercial development on 30,000 acres (121 sq.km) of land

Statements and Press Release

BMA Vehemently Condemn the Statement of Al Qaeda Leader
By Burmese Muslim Association

Thailand: Migrant Children Locked Up
By Human Rights Watch

Dispatches: What Burma's Census Missed
By Human Rights Watch

Solidarity for Asian Peoples' Advocacies (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN Calls on ASEAN to Uphold Human Rights and Investigate Cases of Enforced Disappearances
By SAPA Working Group on ASEAN

Reports

2014 ANNI Report on the Performance and Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia
By Forum-Asia

Two Years With No Moon: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand
By Human Rights Watch

USCIRF Examines Religious Freedom Violations During Fact-finding Trip to Burma
By U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

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