Friday, February 03, 2012

US Campaign for Burma News Wrap

January Burma News Wrap-Up

Burma is in a great state of flux right now. In some areas there are signs of hope, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other candidates campaigning for political office. Nevertheless, while civilian officials are signing ceasefire agreements with some ethnic armed groups, the military is continuing to attack Kachin civilians in northern Burma forcing more people to flee their homes.

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Does a Ceasefire Mean Peace?

"I had to watch every step to come here. No matter what is said about changes, the Burma Army can still kill you anytime." - Karen Elder

Recently civilian authorities from Burma's regime have begun to sign preliminary ceasefire or peace agreements with the Karen National Union, the Shan State Army-North and several other small ethnic armed resistance groups. Unfortunately there is skepticism over the ceasefires, as the Burmese Army ignores orders from the civilian authorities. In December, the Burmese Army ignored President Thein Sein’s order to stop attacking the Kachin. Instead attacks against the Kachin continue despite peace talks. Up until the very day of the KNU ceasefire agreement there was still fighting and abuses, and we have heard reports on the ground that since the ceasefire the Karen have stopped fighting, but Burmese soldiers continue to fire mortars.

The Burmese regime’s constitution grants the military supreme power over its own affairs and over the civilian government. While the civilian authorities move ahead with peace agreements with some ethnic minorities, the military continues their policy of divide and conquer, targeting one ethnic group while allowing others to sign ceasefires. This method has proved disastrous for ethnic peoples in the past.

A key issue for all ethnic groups is the desire for a nationwide ceasefire and genuine national dialogue that will address issues of ethnic equality and strip the military of its power over the civilian government.

There are still many key political problems that caused these decades of conflict that have not been solved. There have been ceasefires in the past, but human rights abuses continued, and ethnic people had no say over their own land. Difficult issues lie ahead, such as withdrawal of Burmese army troops, landmines, ethnic equality, and the safe return of the 600,000 internally displaced people in Eastern Burma.

Read more:

- Zoya Phan: Burma Needs Real Peace, Not Just a Pause in Conflict (Guernica Magazine)

- Statement of KNU Central Committee 2nd Emergency Meeting (read here)

- Peace Efforts Persist, But a Nationwide Ceasefire Remains Elusive (Irrawaddy)

Crisis in Kachin State

photo (left): A boy points to the hole where the Burma Army buried his mother after killing her (Free Burma Rangers)

While the regime’s civilian authorities hold ceasefire talks with some ethnic groups, the military continues its attacks in Kachin areas of Northern Burma and are moving more, fresh troops into the area. There has been and continues to be documentation of the Burmese Army burning down villages and crops, using local people as porters for the military, as well as murdering villagers. The fear of abuses has caused over 40,000 people to flee their homes, and the conditions of the camps are deplorable. Despite the conflict entering its 8th month, these people still receive very little international aid.

Read More:

- Burma Army continues attacks, burns houses and kills one man and two women; over 40,000 Kachin people now displaced by attacks and more preparing to run (Free Burma Rangers)

- An Ethnic War is Rekindled in Myanmar (New York Times)

- Burma: The war that won't stop (Foreign Policy)

- KIO wants ‘political dialogue’ with Burma government not ‘ceasefire talks’ (Kachin News Group)

- Though Diplomatic Doors Open to Myanmar, Tragedy Persists in Ethnic Areas (Huffington Post)

- Burma soldiers open fire on Chinese village sheltering refugees (Kachin News Group)

- The Burmese Army has recently been moving more troops into Kachin areas, particularly moving troops to protect the construction of a Chinese oil and gas pipeline.

Congressional Visits to Burma

The U.S. Congress has been a long time supporter of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy and human rights for the people of Burma, and this month some of Burma's biggest Congressional champions visited the country. Senator McConnell (R-KY) during and after his trip applauded the release of political prisoners, but also made it clear that improving ethnic rights and ending active combat against ethnic minorities are essential steps that have to come to even begin to talk about lifting sanctions. Senators McCain (R-AZ), Lieberman (I-CT), Ayotte (R-NH), and Whitehouse (D-RI) visited Burma together. Longtime Burma supporter Representative Crowley (D-NY) alsowent on a trip and met with families of political prisoners the day before the surprise release.

Burma's Economic Future

There have been lots of discussions lately about Burma's economic future, especially with theIMF releasing their report that Burma "has a high growth potential and could become the next economic frontier in Asia.” However, that hope comes with tough questions about who controls Burma's economy/investments and how much it benefits the people of Burma, not regime officials and their cronies. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her address to the World Economic Forum said that the economy needs to be backed up by just laws. A clear example of this has been recent protests in Burma demanding that natural gas be used to give electricity to the people of Burma and not exported to China. Recently, Burma’s government doubled domestic electricity prices and increased fuel prices by a third despite earning billions of dollars in energy exports to neighboring countries.

Read more: Who's to blame for Burma's economic misery (Foreign Policy)

The Politics of Political Prisoners

As you saw in our last news update, 302 political prisoners were released from prison. However, we are worried about the hundreds of political prisoners who remain locked up. There needs to be an immediate independent international investigation of the prisons to assess the exact number of political prisoners still behind bars. With deep sadness we share with you the death of a tortured activist only ten days after his release.

A crucial issue is the broken, draconian laws that have been used to lock up prisoners. The Burmese regime continues to use these shame laws. Nay Myo Zin (picture left), a political prisoner released on January 13th has been tried again, and might go back to prison. His crime: receiving a key chain with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's picture on it while in prison.

Read more: Suu Kyi Calls for Changes to Constitution (New York Times)

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