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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2963

Burma is Progressing, except on the Road to Peace & Democracy

By Kanbawza Win

Burma is progressing by leaps and bound except in Democracy and Peace is everyone’s knowledge. Greater economic openness and re-engagement with the international community have successfully stimulated the country’s economic growth. The economy has sustained GDP growth of more than 7 per cent for two years running, bolstered by rising exports and foreign investment, according to the latest IMF estimates.

The most important driver for growth has been offshore natural gas production, a big chunk of the profit of which goes to the Tatmadaw and a big chunk into the Generals’ pockets. Unlocking its future growth potential will critically depend on how the country broadens its industrial base and develops value-added linkages to regional and global production networks — which requires further acceleration of broad-based reforms and economic transformation.

The benefits from a single market of ASEAN economies by 2015 under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) could be immense, in terms of access to greater regional markets, attracting regional FDI, and benefiting from skilled labour from other ASEAN countries. But tapping into the potential benefits of regional integration will depend largely on how the country addresses its poor infrastructure and connectivity, strengthens its industrial and commercial base and enhances its institutional and human resource capacity. Burma is ranked low in the overall logistics performance index by the latest World Bank Logistics Performance Survey— 145th out of 160 countries — and quality of infrastructure ranks 137th. Considerable infrastructure gaps exist. A new ADB study estimates to address the major infrastructure gaps by 2030.

Investment in human capital development is crucial to allow the country to attract and retain more of the benefits from FDI. But the ruling clique is determine not to call back the Diaspora Intelligentsia numbering half a million out of 4.1 million because they consider them to encourage dissent. Trade and FDI liberalization will help improve the utilization of factor endowments and productivity, leading to high growth and sustained poverty reduction. But it is human resource capacity that will ultimately enable the country to unleash the potential of trade and FDI and their attendant benefits. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Survey reveals Burma’s poor ranking on business environment and attributes this to problems in access to financing, policy instability, corruption and an inadequately educated workforce. So far the economic sector is good, full stop.


Recent heavy armed conflicts in ethnic regions have exposed the shortcomings of a peace process that will sideline a nationwide ceasefire deal. The fighting has forced dozens of local residents to flee their homes and many have lost their properties and, hiding for their safety, fear a return to work. Schools and clinics were also shut down in conflict-affected areas.

There was much fighting In Karen, Mon States and in Pegu division. Often than not the fighting was between the marauding Tatmadaw soldiers and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), a Karen rebel group that has already signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. “A major cause of the ongoing armed conflict was the lack of a military code of conduct, but the government had refused to discuss this did discuss this,” said Nai Hong Sar, head of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a working committee that combines 16 ethnic armed groups. Without implementing and consolidating the ceasefire process on the ground, the government and that armed ethnic groups will likely to repeat the past mistakes, and any agreement will break down. The conclusion seems to be that the marauding Tatamdaw has no code of conduct and hence they cannot discuss

Even though the Tatmadaw has signed several bilateral agreements there is no code of conduct “Only the code of conduct will prevent tension and conflicts,”said K’nyaw Paw, secretary of the Karen Women Organization (KWO). It would be more like a piece of signed paper than a peace that protects civilians from harm, fear and abuses.

In other non-ceasefire areas the Tatmadaw s mounting military offensive especially in the Palaung (Tang) control area of northern Shan State. It is also now planning to encircle and fight SSPP/SSA (North - Shan State Army) Battalion commander of the government troops led LIB 247 (which is under the control of Kholam and NamZarn township), had spread their troops and positioned at Wonwart block and were filling their reinforcements at these places ready to attack. In the Kachin area the Tatmadaw has almost daily clashes with the KIA as can be seen in the Kachinland news. Heavy clashes between the Tatmadaw and a combined force of Palaung, Kachin and Kokang ethnic fighters in northern Shan State’s Kutkhai Township have killed 17 government soldiers of the Tatmadawby fighters of the TNLA, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), a small Kokang militia. Peace negotiations between the ethnic Armed Organization (EAO) and the government had gone backward as the government side went back to the previously agreed points. All these indicates that the Tatmadaw with the explicit blessing of the Thein Sein government is encroaching on the ethnic nationalities while saying peace is preparing for war, as they continue to recruit child soldiers into the Tatmadaw

No Freedom of Press

On 17 Sept, six Chin farmers held a press conference in Rangoon, where they publicly accused Tatmadaw troops from LIB 344 of torturing them and one other farmer from Paletwa Township, Chin State. The torture took place between 28th Aug. and 5th Sept, after the troops accused them of having links to the Chin National Army (CNA). On 19 September, Tatmadaw troops from LIB 344 again detained the six Chin farmers, held them for two days, and forced them to sign a statement dropping the torture allegations. Since their release, the farmers have gone into hiding. In the meantime, the regime continued to arrest and sentence activists. All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) activist Phyu Hnin Htwe. The arrest was the result of her alleged involvement in the May kidnapping of two Chinese workers at the Monywa copper mine project in Monywa Township, Sagaing Division.

ABSDF activist Zaw Myint under Article 18 of the Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration Law for staging a solo protest calling for national unity on the International Day of Peace. Meanwhile, a court in DedayeTownship, Irrawaddy Division, sentenced Human Rights Watch and Defense Network (HRWDN) activist Tun Tun Oo to six months in prison on three separate charges of the Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration Law for unpermitted protests and planting mangroves in the area. A court in Dedaye Township, Irrawaddy Division, sentenced environmental activists Cho Lwin and Khin Shwe to four months in prison each and Myint Lwin to two months in prison under Article 18 of the Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration Law for their involvement in a protest in which they planted mangroves. Akyab Township Court, Arakan State, sentenced Rohingya human rights defender Kyaw Hla Aung to one year and six months in prison under Article 147 of the Criminal Code on trumped-up charges of rioting. The sentence was in connection with an April 2013 protest by Rohingya IDPs against attempts by the government to register them as ‘Bengali.

Recent arrests of reporters and editors here have raised concerns that Burma is taking a step backward in efforts to shift to a democratic government. On July 10, the Pakokku district court in central Burma sentenced the 52-year-old president of Unity Weekly News and four of its reporters to 10 years in prison. The arrests were based on the State Secrets Act established in 1923 during British colonial rule to protect Burmese military facilities from spies. It carries a maximum 14-year prison term. It is a sort of a warning to the entire Burmese media. Earlier editors of the Bi Mon Te Nay Journal, another weekly publication, were arrested over the publishing of an unedited statement made by political activists. It must be recorded that the 1960s, the only newspaper available was a state-owned publication, the government mouthpiece of “The Working People’s Daily”, then to demonstrate that the country was marching to democracy it ease the media and by 2012 there were currently 12 daily and 218 weekly newspapers published in the country, according to the Information Ministry. Now, the quasi-military government have become increasingly watchful over the media. Police are questioning editors, asking them such things as the financial conditions of their companies.

Eleven Media Group one of the most truthful news and outspoken is now going to be sue by none other than the Ministry of Information giving a lame excuse that the publication carried the news and items that led to the misunderstanding of the people. In short the government and the army is sore afraid that the people will know the true story of every episode.

In late July, When Lee Yang-hee, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights visit Burma in July she, said, “There are worrying signs of possible backtracking, which, if unchecked, could undermine Burma’s efforts to become a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights.” She added, “In recent months, many of my interlocutors have seen the shrinking of (democratic) space for civil society and the media.”

Unfair Land Grabbing Inadequate land laws have opened rural Burma to rampant land

Grabbing by unscrupulous, well-connected businessmen who anticipate a boom in agricultural and property investment. If unchecked, the gathering trend has the potential to undermine the country's broad reform process and impede long-term economic progress. Under the former military regime, land grabbing became a common and largely uncontested practice. Government bodies, particularly military units, were able to seize large tracts of farmland, usually without compensation. Now with the new democratic order local communities band together to fight back against seizure of their lands and there have been several problems. The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation's Department of Agricultural Planning reported in January 2010 that 216 companies had received a total of 1.75 million acres (708,200 hectares) of farmland in the form of state concessions. Many of the disputes now being contested are related to land taken in the mid- to late-1990s especially in ethnic-majority states in the country's peripheral regions. Much of the land was taken for military camps and military access roads, but also for commercial projects either run by the military or companies with ties to the military.

With new hope for an economic revival land grabbing has continued in many of these areas and has also increased in central Burma and in Rakhine State in the west of the country. Current land grabbing is forcing farmers off their land for commercial agri-business ventures, infrastructure projects, tourism development, industrial facilities and gas pipelines. Political and economic reforms, together with relaxed sanctions and a better relationship with the West, have raised expectations of a foreign investment-led economic boom.

The symbiotic relationship between serving and former Tatmadaw officers and influential private businessmen that flourished. These businessmen have long occupied a powerful niche in Burma's economy, a role which will be enhanced with foreign investment-driven faster economic growth. At the same time, connections to the security forces provide these firms with the muscle to intimidate or force small landholders off their claimed lands. Rising land grabbing is resulting in greater displacement and landlessness among Burma's rural population.

The government has made it tougher in some cases for land to be seized from farmers, and has formed a commission to handle land confiscation issues. Rising prospects for foreign investment are inspiring many owners to take possession and evict the farmers. Though the new government has intervened at times, it often does not, and it has even passed laws that have been used against those attempting to resist.

“The problem is, when the government tries to address a hot-button issue,” said Murray Hiebert of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “officials simultaneously introduce reformist policies as well as ways to retreat to the behavior of the old days.” Claims for more than 100,000 acres have been put before the commission, though that is believed to be a pittance of what was actually taken. The minister said only a third of those claims would even be considered, without fully explaining why. New land laws do not eliminate the potential for more dubious seizures because they include exceptions for loosely defined fallow and virgin lands.

The much publicized Lepadoung protest has involved the forced removal of villagers to expand a copper mine being developed by the government-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and the Wan Bao Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of China North Industries Corp. In another case, farmers in Mandalay Division filed a court case against the Bureau of Air Defense and the High Tech Concrete company owned by army crony Aik Tun for their perceived as unlawful seizure of 40 acres (16.1 hectares) of land. A police attempt to break up a protest in Maubin Township, Irrawaddy Division resulted in a clash where one policemen was killed and dozens of police and villagers injured.

In Shan State, about 200 farmers and locals gathered outside a police station in Naung Cho Township, to protect more than 40,000 acres of land in Naung Cho being confiscated by various departments of the government and army. About 40 farmers in Pegu Division’s Nattalin Township who plowed on confiscated land were also threatened by local authorities. Over 100 acres of lands owned by more than 57 farmers were confiscated 16 years ago separately by a local army base and Nattalin police station. In Sagaing Division, farmers from Kantbalu area also submitted a report to the president regarding 14,000 acres that had being confiscated by Burma Economic Cooperation (BEC) since 1999.There were hundreds if not thousands of cases and these professes a time bomb if the government did not curb this unfair business.

It is understood that the Thein Sein regime is trying to gain legitimacy and get away with impunity for the crimes against humanity committed by the successive military regimes, BSPP, SLORC, SPDC, and USDA. Under the 2008 Nargis Constitution, the state is the ultimate owner of all land and natural resources above and below it. Land rights are exclusively in the form of either leasehold rights, user rights, or the right to cultivate a certain plot of land. These rights are granted on the approval of local government bodies appointed by the central government.

Burma’s resources are being sold off to the highest bidder. Foreign investors can now lease land for a period of 50 years with two 10 year extensions. In ‘undeveloped and remote’ areas in Burma, the government will allow foreign investors to hold even longer leases. This seals away swathes of land and ecosystems for generations of farmers and residents – seriously jeopardising their right to food and a secure livelihood. Is this the way to feed the poor of Burma?

Very lately Farmers tilling land near Thayagone village tract in Pegu Dividion have been turned into slaves since the military seized their land more than a decade ago, and that since they started protesting in 2012 soldiers have fenced off the land to keep them out.

The fencing has made it difficult for farmers to get from their homes to their fields, herd their cattle and send their children to school so a bamboo ladder was erected to climb over the fence, but it was destroyed by soldiers, “After our land was grabbed, we were forced to pay to farm it with a share of our crops, but we received no agricultural loans. When the farmland law was enacted in 2012, we started demanding our land back.

Then, the Tatmadaw set up a fence to prevent us from farming it,” said farmer San Shwe. (See photo)

An increase in resource-grabbing by Tatmadaw-supported investment projects could also lead to a flare-up in ethnic conflict. Myanmar Tatmadaw had used the ceasefires to expand its presence and to push through projects that confiscate resources from local communities.“However, an Upper House lawmaker says that a parliamentary committee that has investigated land-grabbing by the Tatmadaw will help return some of this confiscated land to affected farmers”, the Myanmar Times reports. Minister for Defense Lt-Gen Wai Lwin has informed the

Local students have to climb the wire concrete fence to go and from school (EMG photo)

Lower House committee that the military would give back the lands in July, according to MP Hla Swe. “The army will give back all farmland confiscated, except that on which buildings have been constructed or are under construction,” he said. The committee released a report in March that investigated 565 complaints of land-grabbing by the military in past decades, which had resulted in the loss of 247,077 acres (about 100,000 hectares) of farmland. However, up to the time of this writing it have not been implemented yet.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that her party had received many complaint letters from farmers and landowners who had lost their land. “Without rule of law, land is seized from farmers and families are displaced,” she told the crowd, which include many farmers and displaced land owners who carried placards reading,

Many people in Burma are living or farming on land to which they have no title, meaning they face eviction if the government decides the land should be used for something else. The lack of secure tenure could inhibit agricultural development, as well as making for a difficult environment for investors. “If no security, [the current occupiers of land] can’t sensibly make the investment needed to deliver a competitive agricultural sector,” he said. “I would have thought it would be unwise to contemplate disenfranchising the people who occupy the land at the present time. That would be a fairly dangerous route to go down.” Townshend highlighted the possibilities for British companies to export to Burma technology and training, as well as commodities, including the semen of livestock—for which Britain recently signed a US$74 million-a-year deal with China.


After more than half a century of tyrannical military dictatorship the generals seems eager to escape international sanctions and fear of losing its independence to China that was dominating its economy, and international political agenda the regime has chosen to open up the country. Full elections are scheduled for 2015 but they will be meaningless unless the nation's 2008 Nargis Constitution changed. That is not only because the charter was written to exclude Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency, though barring the nation's most qualified, competent, sincere, dedicated and popular politician would in itself make any vote illegitimate. It's also because the existing constitution preserves the military as untouchable, reserving for itself 25 percent of the seats in parliament, which is not compatible with democracy at all. The critical question for next year is whether the ex-generals will get their goal of installing a soft authoritarian rule instead of a hard core dictatorships with the tactic support of the West and join in the pretense? Or whether they are prepared to allow the Burmese to freely choose their own leaders. In a country where there is no free elections can there be democracy at all?

The problem is that after years of punitive measures against the Burmese generals the Western governments now favor the “carrot over the stick”.

To establish good relations with Burma’s former generals, the Western governments now focus on providing them with encouragement and support. Nice words like, “Our objective is to support and accompany Burma in the transition process. We believe that this can be done more effectively through engagement and support than continued sanctions,” Superficial reforms have been rewarded at the risk of reinforcing the old, authoritarian power structures. With a massive potential for “Asia’s last frontier economy,” it has toned down its advocacy for human rights in to win over the country’s quasi-military government.

Did the world knows that no former Generals now in mufti, have never admitted their mistakes, nor asked for forgiveness, let alone punishing them, this explicitly means that they will repeat the same atrocities, as they had done for more than half a century, if things doesn’t go their way. Cronies still control the economy. While the army continues to justify its repressive rule as essential to keeping the fissiparous country together.

The Western countries are involved in the so called peacebuilding. They’re talking about development, when in fact the ethnic nationalities are not fighting to establish a free-market, they’re fighting to establish their own identities, to gain full recognition as political communities.

Then the West comes in and says that economic development will help de-escalate the conflict, actually the total opposite is what is happening. It’s a war about development. And this development is not about people, this development is about capital interest. The large Western funds flowing into Burma carry the heavy risk of supporting authoritarianism, instead of democracy. It also help to assist creating poverty through corruptions: while the fundamental principle of Business Ethics, Corporate Responsibility, and Sustainable Development – are not incorporated in the new concept, planet +people +profit.

People justifies “the process in Burma is not perfect”, but everyone who uses that phrase – I like to ask is it better than what we had before. Before we did not have genocide (like Rohingya), we did not have a full-blown war against the Kachin. We did not have thousands of Burmese people displaced by mega-development projects. There is no land grabbing from the working people. Ethnic cleansing is clearly connected to Economic projects. The people of Burma are worst then hard core dictatorship.

So there are two processes going on, one is the elite pact and the elite deals that is portrayed as the opening up of Burma with commercial and strategic interests, and then you have ethnic and religious minorities fighting back for their survival. They are fighting out of liberal principles, 99% of these people don’t know what the word liberal means, but they fight back. When your land is taken away, the next thing you know you don’t have any plot of land to grow rice or vegetables or for your chickens to go, so this isn’t over. This is never over.

Because we dread a reversal of the modest progress of the past few years, we are afraid to boldly speak out for more meaningful changes to the political system. To conceal their own timidity, some intellectuals have even tried to rationalize acceptance of the status quo by arguing that letting the supposed “moderates” among the ex-generals hold on to power indefinitely is the best way to ensure that the country doesn’t fall back into the hands of the hardliners. Will we allow ourselves to be influenced by such weak reasoning, which is no more than a cover for cowardice?

Lie-ing the Very Concept of Truth

Yet, the former general turned Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, told delegates that the UN to drop their focus on human rights in Burma. He blatantly lie that “positive changes” and “winds of change” have spread across Myanmar in the past three years, which have become the solid foundations of a democratic state. The first was the “peaceful transformation from the military government to a multiparty democratic system.”The second involved economic, administrative and private-sector development reforms. And the third is supposed to deliver benefits to the people by fulfilling their socio-economic needs.

No doubt the first wave of reforms that impressed the international community when it released political prisoners, conducted elections, abolished press censorship, and allowed private newspapers to publish again. But almost all these reforms have backtracked. The situation looked like a superficial manner. He then enumerated several measures implemented by the government to promote human rights, such as the enactment of a new media law, granting of presidential amnesties, endorsement of a zero tolerance policy on the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war, prevention of recruitment of under age children. But he did not mention “systematic rights abuses” perpetrated by the army and police against the civilian.

In the UN General Assembly in New York he confided that Parliament had approved the government’s proposal to ratify the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) of 1972. The proposal to ratify the convention was submitted to Parliament by Thant Kyaw, deputy minister for foreign affairs. “Over 170 countries have already ratified the BWC. All ASEAN countries have except us,” Yet when the Unity journalist published the secret Biological Weapons factory in Magwe Division, Pauk township with phots and location in Jan. this year they jailed them for ten years (later reduced to 7 years) for infringing on the official secret act. What more hypocrisy is wanted?

Regardless of whether the ethnic groups are able to deliver a signed nationwide cease-fire in the coming weeks, President Barack Obama should raise the profile of the peace process when he meets with Myanmar officials during the East Asia Summit in Naypyidaw in November.

Washington should make clear, especially to the country’s military leaders, that it supports a sustainable political, as opposed to military, solution to the country’s armed ethnic conflicts.

No doubt Burma progress on the economic front but its ability to meet three primary challenges: reining in a corrupt and rapacious military, resolving a decades-long civil war with ethnic minority states, and revising a flawed and undemocratic constitution. More than 600,000 people have been displaced by civil conflict, and nearly 1 million are in need of humanitarian aid, according to USAID. And in Rakhine, Human Rights Watch has accused state security forces of carrying out a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya people.

All in all, we strongly think that the UN should not only continue to place Burma in the Human rights watch list but also put in the agenda that the former Generals to be tried for crimes against humanity for Burma is the only country in the world where the heinous and untold crimes committed by the existing and retired Tatmadaw Generals should be tried at the Hague. For we strongly believe that the people of Burma are not seeking for vengeance but just justice and peace which the Burmese Generals had denied them for more than half a century.

Foot Notes

East Asia Forum Necessary Reforms are too Important for Myanmar to Pass Up 1-10-2014


Yan Naing;Saw, Peace on the Table, War on the Ground The Irrawaddy 1-10-2014

The TNLA troops defended against the column of the Myanmar Army division 77 that marched near Panlaw Village , Maingngaw Sub-Township, Kyaukmae Township on Sept.25th

Weng; Lawi, Heavy Fighting in Shan State Kills 17 Govt. Soldiers, Rebels Claim 2-10-2014

Non; Khitar, Independent Mon News 30-9-2014

Obama keeps Myanmar on child soldier sanctions list Mizzima AP news 30-9-2014

AI (30 Sep 14) Myanmar: Farmers at risk after beating by soldiers;< Irrawaddy (26 Sep 14) Chin Farmers Re-Arrested After Accusing Burma Army of Torture

AI (30 Sep 14) Myanmar: Farmers at risk after beating by soldiers; Irrawaddy (26 Sep 14) Chin Farmers Re-Arrested After Accusing Burma Army of Torture

Police Detain Student Activist, Allege Involvement in Chinese Workers’ Kidnapping The Irrawaddy 15-9-2014

EMG (22 Sep 14) Man arrested for calling for national unity on International Peace Day; EMG (24 Sep 14) Section 18 used against Peace Day protester

Mangrove Planting Now an ‘Illegal Protest,’ Court Rules The Irrawaddy 24-9-2014


AI (30 Sep 14) Rohingya activist jailed for 18 months

makoto;Igarashi, Media under scrutiny in Burma's shift to democracy The Asahi Shinbun 2-10-2014

Phyu; Phyu Ministry of Information prepares to sue Eleven MediaU2 Publication 3-10-2014

makoto;Igarashi, Media under scrutiny in Burma's shift to democracy The Asahi Shinbun 2-10-2014

McCarten; Brian,Land grabbing as big business in Burma Asia Times 8-3-2013

Htusan:Ester, Burma’s Farmers Find Little Relief From Land Grabs, Irrawaddy 11-10-2103


Htusan:Ester, Burma’s Farmers Find Little Relief From Land Grabs, Irrawaddy 11-10-2103

Letter to US President by IFBNC 11-5-2013

Hudson Rodd:Nancy International Praise and Grassroots Reality 8-1-2-2012 in DVB

Military ‘turning farmers into land slaves’ Eleven Media Group 1-19-2014

Military ‘turning farmers into land slaves’ Eleven Media Group 1-19-2014

Military to Return Some Confiscated Land Soon: MP Irrawaddy 8-7-2013

Mann; Zarni. Farmers Across Burma Ask Thein Sein for Help Irrawaddy 27-6-2013

Burma tells UN to drop rights scrutiny DVB & Reuters 30-9-2014

Palatino; Mong, Myanmar Insists Reforms Are Working 3-10-2014 The Diplomat

Myanmar set to ratify Biological Weapons Convention Eleven Media 30-9-2014

Mizzima, U 2 News 5-10-2014

- Asian Tribune -

Burma is Progressing, except on the Road to Peace & Democracy
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