Burma on the brink of civil war: the politics

Ethnic groups’ calls for peace are met with further threats from the country’s military rulers

The month of April saw Burma draw severely close to widespread civil war. Continued demands from the country’s dictators on all non-state armed groups to join the national forces continue to be rejected, leaving over a dozen decades-old ceasefires perilously under threat. In a country where civilians are routinely targeted by the government as part of military strategy, the expected outcomes are nothing short of horrific.

Ceasefire Zones of Northern Burma

On April 28th, the final deadline passed for all of Burma’s ceasefire armies to accept the junta’s Border Guard Force plan, a process that aims to bring them under direct state control and work to eradicate all remaining insurgents. Determined to stay autonomous until their people are given the rights to civil, political and humane justice, almost all groups have rejected the plan calling for a political dialogue to achieve national reconciliation.

During the month of April, numerous statements were made by ethnic leaders calling for peaceful solutions to the nation’s protracted military and political tensions. However these requests have been met with persistent threats of violence from the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) forcing the groups to prepare for battle. This was seen most recently on April 30th in Kachin State following 2-day talks between the Kachin Independence Organsiation (KIO) and the SPDC. A statement made by KIO leaders stating that they would like to“continue with the ceasefire and work for a genuine federal union with equal rights between majority and minorities in the country”, was shortly followed by a public threat to eliminate the group for rejecting the SPDC’s plan.

Meanwhile, SPDC troops are being deployed across the country close to regions administered by ceasefire armies and a number of clashes have already taken place, some of which it has claimed were accidental.

While the SPDC’s demands have brought some non-state armed groups closer together, others have become divided leading to speculation about conflict worsening within various ethnic groups. The Shan State Army- North (SSA-North) which signed a ceasefire agreement in 1989 has become divided over whether to accede to SPDC demands. While its headquarters announced  that around 700 troops would transform to become a Border Guard Force, its strongest faction, 1st brigade remains defiant and has already been accused of launching an attack on SPDC troops en route to its territory.

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which has been aligned with the SPDC for over 15 years, has also become divided over the plan, with some generals strongly opposed and others ready to sign . On Tuesday 27th, a sort bout of fighting broke out between the two armies, leading to the arrival of 10 more SPDC battalions to the region and a mass exodus of civilians. While no high-ranking generals have publicly denounced the plan, hundreds of soldiers are said to have defected and sought refuge with the Karen National Union, an insurgent groups that remains at war with the SPDC.

Leading the pro-agreement faction is General Chit Htu, leader of the notorious 999 Brigade. Chit Htu has become one the SPDCs closest allies in recent years, making vast profits from natural resources while terrorizing ans exploiting tens of thousands of civilians under his jurisdiction.

For years ethnic regions in Burma have been divided by armed forces which align themselves with the SPDC and those that continue to fight the regime. In many of these regions, such armies have been able to  keep conflict to a minimum by purposely avoiding each other. However, as the SPDC has increased pressure to force groups to work for or against them, this has become increasingly difficult. Such practices will become impossible if the Border Guard Force plan moves forward as SPDC commanders will be implemented in each battalion, giving the regime far greater control over its proxy forces.

After almost a year of threats from the SPDC, speculation that conflict would reignite appears to be becoming a reality. Everyday seems to take Burma a step closer to widespread civil war and it is fast becoming a question of not if but when.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

US Congressman Rohrabacher Calls for Burma’s Freedom

Speaking in Washington, US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher spoke out for Burma, calling for its people to “have the courage to step forward, join together and retake the country.”

Congressman Rohrabacher speaking in Washington D.C

“Washington, Apr 20 I rise to draw attention to the on-going plight of the people of Burma, now referred to as Myanmar. Shortly after the Second World War, Burma was granted its Independence from Great Britain.  With Democratic institutions in place, rich natural resources, and an educated population, it was expected that Burma would become a wealthy and stable country. Sadly, that country, with so much potential, has been dominated by a corrupt tyrant, and despite its vast wealth its people suffer in abject poverty.”

To read the congressman’s statement in full, click here

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Burma in the News: Landmine Victims Find Solace at Mae La

The choir at Care Villa sing. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/The Irrawaddy)

According to The Irrawaddy (published April 10, 2010):

As the last rays of sun beam through the wooden wall, the choir assembles in the hut. Without delay, the men bellow out the first verse of a Karen song.

One member of the choir tilts his head back, seemingly fully engrossed in the sounds around him while another raises his amputated arm to his ear. The back row breaks off into a harmony filling the room with melancholic songs of freedom and hope for their people.

They have been brought together by a love of music, but this is not your average choir. These men have formed a bond as a result of their near-fatal encounters with landmines.

“In my village, I had never seen a blind man or a person without a limb, so when I lost my sight I felt like such an outsider and lost all hope,” said Has Ka Tarai, who at 15 years of age, is the youngest member of the choir.

When he was 12, Burmese government forces stormed his village, deep in Karen State, burning down all the homes. He and his mother fled to the jungle where they hid for days till they thought it would be safe to return.

As they walked up the hill to the village, Has Ka Tarai recalls being excited to return home. Suddenly he was knocked to the ground; he had hit a landmine with a knife he was playing with.

He says he remembers feeling a pain in his eyes, something he compares to ants eating out his eyeballs. He remembers the sound of his mother shouting and crying. He was blinded and lost much of his hearing.

It has been well documented that the Burmese army often leaves landmines outside villages they raid in order to deter people from returning to their homes. By doing so, they are able to control more territory and leave a psychological scar on the jungle communities who reject their rule.

For two months, Has Ka Tarai’s eyes went untreated until a Free Burma Ranger medic came to the village. Seeing how severe his condition was, the medic took him all the way to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Has Ka Tasrai was told he would never see again.

He didn’t want to go back to his village, fearing for his life. Instead, he was offered a chance to stay at “Care Villa,” a foundation set up in 2000 by the Karen Handicap Welfare Association to look after landmine victims at Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand.

Not only have many of the residents at Care Villa lost limbs, but many have lost their sight as well. Basic daily activities can be extremely difficult for them. Before coming to Care Villa, many of them stayed with friends or family who were unable to help satisfactorily. Many say they fell into heavy depression.

Continue reading the article here

Worldwide Impact Now

Leave a comment

Filed under Burma in the News, Free Burma Rangers, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Reports, The Karen, The People

Burma in the News: Opposition to Boycott Myanmar Vote

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese opposition politician, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy and the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

According to the NY Times (published March 29, 2010):

BANGKOK — “After months of internal debate, members of the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the long-detained pro-democracy leader, defied Myanmar’s junta by announcing Monday they would boycott the country’s first elections in two decades.

“The move raises questions about both the future of the Burmese opposition and the credibility of the vote.

“According to election laws the junta released earlier this month, the decision means that the party that has served as the mainstay of the country’s democratic movement for two decades, the National League for Democracy, will be automatically dissolved. Western governments, including the United States and Britain, had said that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s participation and that of her party were prerequisites for legitimate elections.

“On Monday, U Win Tin, a founding member and strategist for the party, said that more than 100 party delegates were unanimous in their decision. ‘We will ask the people around us not to vote in the election: Please boycott,’ he said in a telephone interview. He said that the party would try to continue political activities after it is disbanded. ‘We will work for the people,’ he said.

“The party had been split over whether to contest the elections, forced to choose between participation that would undercut its principles and a boycott that would dissolve it. Last week, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi said through a spokesman that she viewed the election process as “unjust” and that she felt that the party should not contest.

“’They made a decision to maintain their dignity,’ said Win Min, a lecturer in contemporary Burmese politics at Payap University in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. ‘They wanted to keep Aung San Suu Kyi as their leader. On the other hand, what is their alternative after this?

“Mr. Win Min said the National League for Democracy would likely be disbanded by May 6, a deadline set in the election laws. The party’s assets, including offices, might be seized. ‘Some members may be planning to set up a new party,’ Mr. Win Min said.

“The ruling generals portray the vote as part of a “roadmap” to democracy after 48 years of military rule, while diplomats and exile groups view it as window-dressing for the junta’s continued hold on power.”

Read the entire article here

Worldwide Impact Now

Leave a comment

Filed under Burma in the News, History, Military, Reports, The People

The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 4

And to conclude…read part one, part two and part three

Rahima came to Mae Sot when all hope was lost for a good life in Burma. Now, after being left by two husbands, she is a single mother of two and spends her days on the streets of Mae Sot collecting glass and plastic to sell for recycling.

“I don’t need a husband. I’ve had enough of all that. I’ve had two husbands already who divorced me because they couldn’t afford me or our children so they left. I am finished with all of that! I just live in a dream where someone will notice me and resettle me to a third country; somewhere my children can be educated and live a good life.”

“Sometimes I think we could find a better life in Bangkok or Malaysia. But then I look down at my children and think that if I can’t even provide them with food and medicine, how could I ever do something like that? Sometimes I think of giving them to an orphanage but I can’t because they are not Thai or Karen. I have no optimism left. I just live each day to survive.”

With the future looking so bleak for Rahima, and millions of other irregular migrants across Asia, it is hard to draw any positives. But as I leave Rahima, I make sure she knows how inspiring it is to see what people are capable of when it comes to the survival of their family. The strength between Rahima and her children that has kept them together against all odds is more impressive than anything most people could hope to achieve, anywhere in the world.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager

Worldwide Impact Now

Leave a comment

Filed under Internal Displacement, Military, Perspective, Refugees, Reports, The Lifestyles, The People

The World Missed The Real Olympics

We missed it.  How easily came the deception of bright games in Vancouver, when the real Olympics played out darkly well beyond the world’s attention and care. The clamoring international media poured exaltation upon adoration on Olympic hopefuls in search of champions with poignant stories of personal trials and tribulation for us to admire.  Yet the real games played out darkly on deadly slopes in the high jungle mountains of Eastern Burma. Here tens of thousands of innocent villagers and defenseless hill tribe refugees were being hunted down – the prize for them being to just stay alive in a race with no end.   Still harder to imagine is that the same international community that pumped tens of millions of dollars into the Vancouver games, also pumps billions of dollars into the hands of Burma’s brutal military dictator – one of the worst human rights violators on the planet.

All the forces of nature in the cyclone that hit Burma with catastrophic devastation in 2008, now pale in comparison to a “more perfect storm” of profit-hungry globalization and consumerism devoid compassion.  This all swirls in perfect indifference and neglect of innocents in Burma, who hope against all odds for a champion for their cause.  As the world and its new Olympians look forward to bright futures, it is now dead winter of the perennial Burma Olympics proceeding  headlong on a dark run with no end in sight for people oppressed…always with hope, but ever without champions.

Tim Heinemann, Founder

Worldwide Impact Now

Leave a comment

Filed under Corporate Interests, Globalization, History, Military, The People, WIN

Burma VJ At The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

This Sunday, amidst the celebrities and bright lights of Hollywood, the oppressed people of Burma will be given a voice on the international stage at the world renowned Oscars ceremony. “Burma VJ”, which tells the story of the 2007 nationwide “Saffron Revolution” protests, has been nominated for the best feature-documentary award along with 4 other nominees. If successful, the Oscar will become the most prestigious of 34 awards given to this unique piece of cinema.

Speaking to Irrawaddy magazine earlier this week, Jan Krogsgaard, the originator and scriptwriter of the film said “If ‘Burma VJ’ receives the Oscar, it will be the first time in history that a whole nation’s population will receive an Oscar…I think even the generals of Burma would like to see this happen, deep inside themselves, and find peace within their own lives.”

Consisting mainly of footage taken by a furtive network of video journalists (VJs), Burma VJ show the events of September 2007, when monk-led protests throughout the nation brought tens of thousands to the streets to call for their human and civil rights and an end to military rule. Once national momentum had peaked, a brutal crackdown by the regime ensued and is estimated to have led to over 6,000 arrests and over 130 deaths. In following months, urban areas went under tighter martial law, leading to the exodus of thousands of activists.

Last year, as the film premiered in London, WIN’s JJ Kim watched it on the Thai-Burma border with Khine Wai Zaw, one of the many young people at the frontline of the uprising. Speaking after the film, the young activist gave a fascinating account of the events and an insightful reflection on what the film means to Burma. To read it in full click here

To visit the film’s official website, watch the trailer and order a copy click here

Leave a comment

Filed under Burma in the News, Perspective, Reports, The People