ETHNIC NEWS ROUNDUP
The NCCT Law Khee Lah Ethnic Summit from the 2 – 9 June dominated the news and opened with an optimistic speech by KNU Chairman Mutu Say Po. The summit, nominally organised to discuss the NCCT’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agrrement (NCA) draft, was extended to allow for further discussion.
At the beginning of the event three participants, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA), said they would resign as members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).
All three groups have been engaged in fierce fighting with government forces in the Kokang region, next to the Myanmar-China border, in recent months.
According to media reports, the MNDAA representatives indicated that the group was looking to quit the NCCT as its leaders in the Kokang region feel dis- contented with the bloc’s undertakings in the ongoing peace process. The AA also expressed the view that the NCCT’s negotiations with Naypyidaw in arranging a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) have not been inclusive.
On the second day, the tone was someone more sombre as N’Ban La, joint chairman of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), began his opening speech he urged other members of the NCCT to abstain from the agreement until all members were included. He further warned other leaders to be much more sceptical of President Thein Sein’s commitment to establishing a federal system of government, one of the key demands of ethnic leaders nationwide. N’Ban La’s speech was described by one commentator as dealing a dose of reality, although whose reality is unclear.
Either way the meeting concluded with 15 amendments to be made to the NCA and a new committee being formed to negotiate the amendments with the Government and the three groups reconsidering their
The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), led by Yawd Serk, which was not present at the meeting and is not a member of the NCCT, had issued a statement expressing ‘welcome and support’ for the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The group had met with U Aung Min of the Government Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) delegation in Chiang Mai on 29 May.
In addition, U Aung Min, according to SHAN, apparently told representatives that ‘The draft is not perfect . . . But for all of its imperfections, it has 4 solid guarantees
- No disarmament as long as the peace process lasts - Federalism - Exemption from Section 17/1 (Unlawful Association Act)
- Political dialogue’
Elsewhere, the Unity Committee for Karen armed groups held a special meeting to discuss the management of the tollgates on the Myawaddy-Kawkareik section of the Asia highway in Karen or Kayin State local media reported. Apparently, there are a total of eight tollgates, including the government’s and the armed groups – KNU, DKBA, KNU/KNLA (PC) and all Karen groups have agreed to work together on collecting the tolls.
On Saturday 6 June an event, organised by Kachin youths, was held in Yangon to remember the start of the renewed conflict in Kachin State. The event, ‘Concern, Care and Contribute to the IDPs Now,’ was held to support the hundred thousand or more internally displaced people who have had to flee their homes because of the fighting there.
In Mon State, villagers were allowed to return to a forest in Kawsar Sub-Township in Southern Ye Township. Local Mon media reported on the 8 June that Infantry Battalion (IB) 31, based near Kawsar Town, gave an order to locals in Kawsar Sub-township on 18 May that no one was allowed to set foot in the forest. As a result, the locals struggled, as they could not work in their orchards and fields. The reason given by IB 31 for banning people from entering the forest was that the Nai Pin and Mon Chan armed groups were attempting to extort local people in the area.
Also in Mon State, a report released by the Woman and Child Rights Project (WCRP) on 2 June stated that poverty is a leading cause in student dropouts across rural Mon schools in southern Myanmar. The report titled “Inaccessible and Under-Resourced: Concerns over Education in Rural Mon Communities” draws on interviews with 146 individuals, conducted by the WCRP in 17 villages in Ye, Kyarinnseikkyi and Yebyu townships in southern Myanmar.
The WCRP’s report included findings concerned with education at three primary schools under the control of the Ministry of Education, ten schools run by the Mon National Education Committee (MNEC) and ten mixed schools run by both but with a greater influence from the Ministry of Education.
The report also gave reasons why children dropout of school. These included the distance needed to travel to attend class, an obligation to help with housework, and encountering problems while studying.
Although the student to teacher ratio varied across the schools, ultimately, there was a lack of teachers with some classes’ numbers hovering around 35 students per teacher. Whilst the ratios were not excessively high, there are concerns over the training teachers receive before entering the classroom with regards to handling a class and teaching effectively.
Narcotics in Shan State were one more in the spotlight with the release of a new report by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute’s Drugs and Democracy Programme. The report notes that the ongoing peace process raises hope for more effective drug policies and that, “After decades of civil war, few of the conflict actors, including the Myanmar army, can claim to have clean hands,” it says: “TNI research in Shan State, for instance, found that all parties in the conflict—including Tatmadaw units—taxed opium farmers.”
It also notes, the Tatmadaw policy of prioritising security over drug-related concerns has allowed criminal groups and drug syndicates to operate freely especially in areas controlled by the pro-government militias.
Kachin woman and her children walk pass at the Je Yang Camp in Laiza, Kachin State Nyein Chan Naing EPA