|Rev. Saboi Jum Tries To Mediate Between KIO And Junta|
|Written by KNG|
|Tuesday, 04 August 2009 21:06|
A Kachin Blog
Yangon — From Saturday's Globe and Mail, Saturday, Jun. 20, 2009 03:57AM EDT
Were the trial of the world's most poignant embodiment of peaceful resistance not so real, Aung San Suu Kyi's recent misfortunes could have sprung from the pages of a novel.
A diabetic Vietnam veteran swims across a lake in the dead of night, eludes the guards watching over a nation's long-imprisoned leader and spends the night in her mansion, only to be plucked from the water in mid-escape the next evening and sent to prison along with “the Lady.”
Ms. Suu Kyi's interminable house arrest over 13 of the past 19 years was supposed to expire at the end of May, in time for yesterday, her 64th birthday. Instead, the democracy advocate – who was elected president of Myanmar (formerly Burma) in a landslide 1990 vote, but never permitted to take office by the ruling junta – stands charged with breaking the terms of her detention, in a trial that will resume on Friday after being suspended last month.
Her sentence seems a forgone conclusion: five more years in jail.
Equally predictable, though, has been the international community's corresponding verdict: further isolation for Myanmar, a fate parallel to that suffered by its heroine.
Yesterday in Brussels, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that European Union nations had agreed to mark Ms. Suu Kyi's birthday by stepping up sanctions against Myanmar. He called for her “immediate, unconditional release,” and described her trial as “absurd and contemptible.”
The United States has already extended its sanctions, after the Obama administration briefly contemplated a more moderate approach, like the strategy of engagement that it has been advocating for Iran. Kurt Campbell, the incoming top U.S. diplomat to East Asia, said last week that Ms. Suu Kyi's rearrest “makes it very difficult to move forward” with that goal.
And Ms. Suu Kyi would be the first to ask him not to. She has led the call for sanctions, maintaining that engagement with Myanmar's generals can only strengthen them. Turn the screws of hardship tight enough, the argument goes, and eventually the oppressors will either back down or be overthrown by their victims.
With her integrity and sacrifice, she has won virtually every Western government, including Canada's, over to her logic. In April, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier boasted of imposing “the toughest sanctions in the world” on Myanmar.
But something few people discuss in public is that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's high-minded politics are increasingly out of touch with the more pragmatic approach of many relief workers in her country. Their view of sanctions has been tempered by experience over the two decades since Ms. Suu Kyi was first locked away.
Not only is the regime's grip on power as strong as ever, they say, but the net of sanctions meant to squeeze the junta has expanded to snare humanitarian aid as well, depriving innocent citizens of crucial assistance.
To the doctors caring for a burgeoning population of people with AIDS, or the development workers struggling to build schools in the country's numerous conflict zones, the most relevant statistic about Myanmar is not its rank as the second-most-corrupt nation in the world, but the amount of foreign aid it receives – $3 a head, about a 20th of the amount sent to Laos or Sudan.
Sanctions on any intransigent dictatorship are meant to be selective.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Department explicitly notes “certain humanitarian exemptions” to the ban on goods and services moving between the two countries. If you want to send medical supplies or money via the Red Cross, for instance, you can – though you'll need a special permit.
Don't expect to get any logistical help from the Canadian embassy in Myanmar, because there isn't one. This reflects the government's own choice – legislated or otherwise – to avoid the moral labyrinth of delivering aid into tyranny.
A rare exception occurred after Cyclone Nargis decimated Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta last spring. As part of the global outpouring that followed, the Canadian International Development Agency sent a one-time, $26-million package of emergency relief. But despite desperate appeals from the United Nations and other agencies still working there, we've not sent a penny since.
We're even less likely to now, said Harn Yawnghwe, executive director of the Euro-Burma office in Brussels, despairing that “anyone proposing more humanitarian aid will face strong political opposition.”
Inside or out?
Peter Gillespie is the program manager for Inter Pares, a Canadian non-governmental organization that has provided health care to refugees outside Myanmar since 1991, despite Canadian bureaucratic obstacles that discourage NGOs from operating there, a practice he defends by pointing to the quarter-million patients Inter Pares reaches every year.
“Our work is having enormous impact,” he said. But working within the country itself would be another matter.
“There are two fundamental questions,” Mr. Gillespie said. “First, can aid be delivered into the country in an accountable way that does not strengthen the regime? And second, is it possible for NGOs to operate within the country without significant impediment from the junta? The answer to both these questions is no.”
Yet in northeastern Kachin state, where a brisk heroin trade flourishes among the savage jade and gold mines of the Himalayan foothills, I met a foreign doctor who felt otherwise. Hidden away in the mountains surrounding Myitkyina, Kachin's verdant capital, are towns with HIV rates of 90 per cent; he described the “shooting galleries” he saw fuelling the epidemic there.
“I saw a place where men lined up outside a hut, and inside was a plastic sheet with a hole cut through the middle,” said the doctor (who asked not to be named, to protect his work). “You'd go in, stick your arm through the hole, and a man on the other side would inject you with heroin. He used the same needle all day.”
The doctor began a needle-exchange program that went through 160,000 needles in a month. All this in a part of Myanmar that foreigners are officially banned from visiting.
“Everything here is done unofficially,” he told me. “The authorities tend to see us as the enemy, and so local administrators are afraid to give us permission for anything. They often sympathize with us, but they know it could cost them their job to help us. So we try to just do things without asking, and usually this works – if you don't ask permission, no one stops you.”
But can humanitarian aid go beyond saving lives to help effect the kind of change that sanctions have failed to produce? Absolutely, said David Tegenfeldt, a senior adviser to the Vancouver-based Hope International Development Agency. His personal history is closely tied to Myanmar's.
Mr. Tegenfeldt was born in Yangon (then Rangoon) to missionary parents who developed close ties with the Kachin ethnic minority, who are mainly Christian. In 1962, the military regime kicked all missionaries out of the country and Mr. Tegenfeldt's family returned to America; he moved back to Myanmar in 1994 at the urging of Kachin leaders who had just signed a ceasefire with the junta and wanted his help in rehabilitating their war-torn communities.
“When I arrived, there were just four registered NGOs in the entire country,” he recalled. “There has been a huge proliferation since then, to the point where there's almost no part of Myanmar that NGOs don't operate.”
What these groups can do, he argued, is help to lay the groundwork by encouraging social networks among communities with a history of conflict – something Myanmar has in abundance.
Wind of change
Such an opportunity came in the wake of the worst storm in Myanmar's history. On May 2, 2008, 200-kilometre-an-hour winds tore across the Irrawaddy Delta region in Myanmar's southwest corner, whipping up a four-metre storm surge that pulsed through the entire river system and drowned 140,000 people; a million more had everything but the clothes on their back washed into the Andaman Sea.
Cyclone Nargis brought Myanmar to the world's attention, not least because of the junta's initial refusal to accept international help. Planes laden with food and medicine languished at the Bangkok airport for weeks; many supplies that did make it through were pilfered by the military and sold in the markets for profit.
But something else happened too: Private citizens and NGOs already inside the country, local and foreign, responded to the crisis with a spec-
tacular effort that kept the imperilled survivors alive. Among them was the Metta Foundation, a local group working in Myanmar's post-conflict zones since 1994.
“We were lucky to have a presence in the delta already,” Seng Raw, its executive director, told me. A serene and soft spoken woman in her 60s, Ms. Raw explained that Metta had established relations with 231 delta villages after the 2004 tsunami, which killed about 60 people there.
“This meant we knew exactly where to deliver supplies and who to give them to. The government did not try to stop us – we've been doing this throughout the country for 15 years, and we know how to get things done.”
A year later, her organization is busy building schools and homes, replanting mangrove forests and conducting countless other projects whose costs and achievements are accounted for in Metta's annual report down to each mosquito net.
Critically, this work is being delivered through local leaders drawn together from the delta's patchwork of ethnic communities. “People who never before co-operated now see it as a matter of survival.”
By fostering these relationships, organizations such as Metta breathe life into civil society. But, of course, it isn't the junta that pays the group's way. When I asked if Metta relies on foreign donors, she smiled as though I'd asked if the sky was blue. “How else could we survive?”
Widening the conversation
The week before I met David Tegenfeldt in Yangon, he had been in Washington to plead with government representatives for an increase in strategic aid. He was tentatively promised one, from $3-million to $21-million a year.
What's more, he urged his audience to open a dialogue with the junta. “History teaches us that isolating a country has never been an effective tactic,” he told me, repeating his pitch to Congress.
South Africa, he noted, was the only country in the world where sanctions could be said to have led to regime change, “and even there they were just one tool in a big toolbox that included all kinds of diplomatic engagement. You should never sacrifice your principles or stop criticizing, but criticism is only one part of the conversation.
“There are also constructive things to talk about. We are concerned with the environment – so is Myanmar. We are concerned about narcotics – so is Myanmar. Surely there is a common thread here that we could find a way to work together on.”
For now, however, Ms. Suu Kyi's renewed detention has dashed any such hopes. Canadian Friends of Burma, a lobby group, is urging that the junta's diplomats be expelled if she is not released.
On the question of aid, its executive director, Tin Maung Htoo, conceded by phone from Ottawa that “we should not let people die while we wait for a political solution.” But the problem, he said “is that any business you do in Burma, you have to deal with the junta.”
Should our refusal to do so persist, Ms. Suu Kyi's chronicle of a verdict foretold will all too likely lead to Myanmar's 100 years of solitude.
Arno Kopecky is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver.
It's not too late to rescue Burma from further tragedy
It is time to treat Than Shwe as the war criminal that he is, and hold a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity, writes Benedict Rogers.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's imprisoned Democracy leader, will turn 64 on Friday Photo: Reuters
Within the past month, two new shocking chapters of misery have opened up in Burma’s decades-long tragedy.
The first is the trial, on ludicrously fabricated charges, of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who marks her 64th birthday this coming Friday. Now in the notorious Insein Prison, after over 13 years of house arrest, her trial is a blatant attempt by the regime to keep her locked up. Her continued detention is illegal under both international and Burmese law, according to the UN – which is why the regime has gone to such absurd lengths to find fresh charges.
The second is the attacks within the past week on Ler Per Hur , a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Karen State, Burma. Situated on the banks of the Moie river, opposite Thailand, Ler Per Hur has been home to more than 1,200 Karen IDPs who had fled the Burma Army’s attacks on their villages deeper inside Burma. Although it has twice been attacked before, it has for the past seven years provided a place of sanctuary and relative peace for those escaping the junta’s policies of forced labour, rape, torture, destruction of villages, crops and livestock, extrajudicial killings and conscription of villagers as human minesweepers.
I know Ler Per Hur well. I have visited many times. The people there are my friends. I have ridden in their boats, walked through their vegetable patches, played with their children and talked with new arrivals. I have brought British and Irish politicians, including John Bercow , perhaps the next Speaker of the House of Commons, there. My mother has visited, and my sister , a professional musician, has played her violin there. Now, the inhabitants of Ler Per Hur and the surrounding area have had to flee for their lives.
Over 5,000 Karen civilians are now encamped on the Thai side of the river, in urgent need of food, medicine and shelter, surrounded by the sound of mortars and RPGs. As Rainbow, a school teacher and a friend of mine, told the BBC : “Last week government troops attacked our camp. They were shelling every day … We can't go back because the military has taken over our camp. But we can't stay here for long either. We are illegal here … We can only hope that we'll be able to go home soon.”
That hope, that they and the several million other Burmese refugees around the world will be able to go home soon, requires the international community to wake up. In recent years, abundant evidence has been provided of the extraordinary inhumanity of Burma’s ruling military dictator, Senior General Than Shwe. In 2007, his military beat, arrested, imprisoned and killed Buddhist monks and civilians participating in peaceful protests. Last year, he rammed through a rigged referendum on a new constitution, while denying humanitarian aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis.
Yet rather than jolting the international community into serious action, these events appear to have increased muddled thinking among some. There are those in academia, diplomacy and major aid agencies who, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, argue that the regime shows signs of reasonableness and that all we need to do is lift sanctions and engage unconditionally. Perhaps, in some of their minds, a round of golf with the Generals would do the trick. It is as if the wind and rain of Cyclone Nargis swept through their brains – not removing the cobwebs that previously existed, but instead leaving a soggy mess behind. It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘water on the brain’.
The farcical trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, combined with the intensification of the offensive against Karen civilians, must surely be a wake-up call for those who have not previously heard the sirens ring. Than Shwe is not a man with whom we can simply have a nice chat. Significant pressure, far from being a cause of his intransigence, is the only language he understands. Sanctions, rather than being lifted, need to be tightened and more carefully targeted, to hit Than Shwe and his cronies. The United Nations Security Council must impose a universal arms embargo, and the European Union – which has at last issued a statement condemning the offensives in eastern Burma – should lead the charge. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should make the release of political prisoners in Burma his personal priority, as called for in a petition signed by almost 700,000 people . And it is time to treat Than Shwe as the war criminal that he is, and hold a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity , as called for by two previous UN special rapporteurs. Such steps should be given the sense of urgency the situation deserves, by invoking the UN’s ‘Responsibility to Protect’ mechanism. That would be the most appropriate way of marking Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday.
Moreover, humanitarian aid – both within the country and especially to the IDPs on the run in the border areas – must be increased. Those who criticize pressure accuse campaigners of opposing aid. It is time to nail that lie once and for all. I know of no Burma activist who has opposed humanitarian aid, provided it is properly channeled and reaches those who need it most, without benefiting the regime. Indeed, the Burma Campaign UK and Christian Solidarity Worldwide fought hard to get the British government to increase aid to Burma in 2007, a battle we won in the face of stiff opposition from some civil servants. So while we can debate the merits of other policies, I urge those who perpetuate the lie about aid to put away their childish games and accept that on the humanitarian issue, at least, there is significant common ground. Furthermore, if they really do care about the humanitarian crisis in Burma, I hope they will join me in calling for significant emergency aid to the IDPs and refugees newly displaced as a result of the current eastern Burma crisis.
It is of course clear that Burma’s regional neighbours, notably China, India, Japan and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), have a crucial role to play. Thailand in particular must see the offensives on its border, which may amount to attempted genocide, as the last straw. China should recognize that its reputation is seriously at risk if it continues to provide economic and diplomatic support for Than Shwe’s barbaric regime. They must join the US and the EU in urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to increase his efforts to bring change to Burma, and supporting initiatives at the Security Council. Burma’s political and humanitarian crisis surely ranks in the same category as North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe, and as such it must receive the attention it deserves and has for so long been denied. It is not too late to rescue Burma from further tragedy, nor is the international community’s already much-tarnished moral record irredeemable – but both hang in the balance.
Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist working for Christian Solidarity Worldwide , which recently launched the Change for Burma! campaign. He is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma’s Karen people (Monarch Books, 2004). He has travelled almost 30 times to Burma and its borderlands, and is currently writing a biography of Senior General Than Shwe.
June 11, 2009 at 2:00am
What happen to Kachin land today because we accepted and joined panglong agreement that is "Overall strategy of transition" for Kachins at that time hoping that one day we would have a separate Kachin State and full autonomy?
What happen to Kachin land today since we continued to engage in "Plan of Tactics"of those days? Never ending "Plan of Tactics" without a solid result for our people and our lands.
Do we think ourselves that we can outsmart with junta in playing politics? Do we really have the capacity to deal with regime? Are there men of integrity, and resources (even we have those, do we have stamina?) to play this game with junta?
Some outcomes are already foreseen.
We want to urge KIA/KIO leaders to "NOT ACCEPT THE PROPOSAL" made by junta. If you want to play politics, do play here how to find other means to avoid war and casualties while holding the principals and goals, standing against them. Non-cooperation with junta is the weapon to fight while the whole world is watching!