Wednesday 30 June 2010

The weak points of Burma’s ethnic resistance groups – Lt-General Yawd Serk

The Nation (Thailand), Tue 29 Jun 2010 

For more than 50 years, the ethnic resistance groups struggling against the Burmese military government have failed to achieve success. To identify the reasons for this failure we need to evaluate our weak points.
First, our love for the nation is mainly dependent on each individual situation and position. We have failed to find a strong unity that would enable us to reach our goal.

Second, on the political front, we laid out different policy objectives, with some groups aiming at a federal Burma and others wanting total independence. These different political ideologies mean we have fought against one another- a fight that has been fuelled by people’s lack of political knowledge and a lack of education that means many are easily manipulated.
On the other hand, the educated scholars are reluctant to face the hardship of struggle, and only provide moral support from the shelter of their homes. Very few educated people have made the sacrifice to come out and work for their people.

In addition, many involved in the struggle do not know how to differentiate between friend and foe. Faced with disagreement and disapproval, they break up into small factions and bow to the enemy. They become informants, giving the enemy knowledge of weak points of the resistance groups. They forget who the real enemy is.

Disagreement and argument are a natural part of internal affairs. But whatever the disagreement and however big the argument, we should not break up. We should come face to face, reconcile, compromise and find a way to beat the enemy. This means paying more attention and care to the role of alliances.
In the past, we made alliances not with our hearts but with words. These prioritised the interests of each individual and organisation over the common interest. When the enemy attacked one group, its ally failed to help, because it was not being directly attacked. But if the enemy defeated the first group, its ally would be the next target. This demonstrates that the role of an alliance should be to help one another finish off the enemy.
Third, putting individual ego before the national interest means no unified group can form – there are always splits in the gathering. Fights broke out among the groups over control of territory, but they failed to protect the people or rehabilitate country.
We could not beat the enemy because we were distracted by self-interest and disputes that weakened our unity. It is not the external enemy but the enemy within that has been responsible for the destruction of resistance groups. The lesson is clear: we must work towards reconciliation and building a strong unity via the right policies. Otherwise, there are too many obstacles on our path to success.
Fourth, if we compare our struggle with that of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh’s, our efforts are no match for his. We need competent political and military leaders as well as educated people. Our people need the capacity to develop.

Shan political parties are unreliable, as most of the politicians are stuck in their houses due to the threats from the enemy. The pressure and threats from the Burmese regime prevent them from laying out the same policies as the armed groups do.

If we adopted the same political ideology of self-determination, and united against the Burmese regime, it would not be difficult to lay out political strategies. But the ethnic minority groups that wanted to become part of a federated Burma have not been able to agree with those who were fighting for total independence. As a result, finding unity has been delayed. If the ethnic Wa, Palung, Pa-O and Lahu groups could accept that ethnic nationalities have lived together peacefully in Shan State since ancient times, then a new federated Shan State is not far away. We can overcome the difficulties and guarantee the rights of the ethnic groups through open discussion.

Fifth, when the armed groups began agreeing ceasefires with the Tatmadaw (Burma’s military), they lost political ground. The Burmese regime now has the upper hand in negotiations with them.
The ceasefire groups mistakenly believed that they would be able to talk politics with the regime. In the meantime, they thought they would be able to recruit, boost funds and stockpile weapons. However, the regime has played a clever game, preventing the ceasefire groups reaching both their political and military goals.

The regime offered ceasefire talks for two reasons:
1. The internal political conflict intensified in Burma after Aung San Suu Kyi became more actively involved in the politi cal movement. The regime needed to solve its internal problems first.
2. In 1989, many ethnic armed groups mutinied from the Burma Communist Party led by Thakin Pa Thein Tin. At this point, the regime was afraid that the ethnic groups would form into a single opposition force, so offered ceasefire agreements in return for concessions. The regime was desperate to prevent the groups forming an alliance with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

(This familiar tactic of the Burmese regime is often characterised thus: “When it is weak it will kneel down and beg for mercy, but when it is strong it will ignore your requests and cut off your begging hands.”)
Twenty years on since the policy of ceasefires began, the philosophy of solving political conflicts through political means has not materialised. Some ceasefire groups have abandoned their beliefs after receiving economic privileges from the regime, while others have been left in a dilemma over their political stance. With their political objectives derailed, they are now reacting to the regime’s oppression in an ineffective day-to-day way. As a result, lasting peace is even further from their grasp.

Moreover, if the ceasefire groups agree to participate in this year’s election or agree to transform into border guard forces, militia or police, their original political objectives will have clearly failed. The 2008 constitution is not accepted by all ceasefire groups but by contesting the election, they will automatically relinquish their political objectives.

Lastly, so far, the ethnic armed groups have only adopted guerrilla tactics in the struggle against the Tatmadaw. A large offensive with military strategy that could match that of the Burmese army has not been carried out. No central command has been formed, and battalions and brigades fail to take commands from their headquarters. In contrast to this weak and ineffective command structure, the battalions of the Burmese army obey orders from above in all cases. We have to face the fact that the Tatmadaw is stronger and better in controlling its troops. Even though the regime’s political and human-rights reputation has been shattered, their decades-long grip on power remains strong.

Lt-General Yawd Serk is chairman of the Restoration Council of the Shan State.

Sanctions force departure of Burmese general’s student daughter

Like many overseas students, Zin Mon Aye hoped to parlay her accounting degree into permanent residency. But her days in Australia were numbered once officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade learned she was on campus at the University of Western Sydney.

Ms Aye, 25, is the daughter of Brigadier-General Zin Yaw, a senior figure in the Burmese dictatorship.
Australia is a party to sanctions supposed to put pressure on the regime by targeting its leaders and their families.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith decided in 2008 that allowing Ms Aye to stay in the country would be at odds with Australia’s international policy on Burma.
She is expected to return to Burma within days, having fought Mr Smith all the way to the full bench of the Federal Court, and lost.

“Sadly, she’s being punished for something of which she is innocent,” said her lawyer, Tony Silva.
According to the court decision this month, Ms Aye said “she was estranged from her parents because of her father’s association with the brutal Burmese military dictatorship”.
She said she did not depend on her parents financially and had a full-time job waiting once she finished her masters at UWS.

Her argument was that Australia’s sanctions should not penalise “adult children of senior Burmese regime figures, who are not supporters of the regime”.

The three judges who heard her appeal agreed it must fail, although they split 2-1 on the degree to which she could challenge Mr Smith’s essentially political decision in the courts.

One judge, Bruce Lander, said Mr Smith’s decision directly affected her right to stay in Australia.
This meant he should have given her procedural fairness by allowing her to say whether or not she was in fact Brigadier-General Zin Yaw’s daughter. But since her identity was not in question, her appeal had to fail.
The other two judges, Jeffrey Spender and Neil McKerracher, took a more absolute position on the separation of powers issue.

They said Ms Aye was inviting the courts to second-guess Mr Smith’s sanctions policy. This they could not do.

Friday 25 June 2010

World – a hostile place for refugees

 Thestar, 24 June 2010


JUNE 20th was World Refugee Day. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), millions of people across the world are forced to flee their homes as a consequence of war and persecution and ethnic, tribal and religious violence.

They often leave everything they have behind and literally run for their lives. For most of us, it is hard to imagine what that must be like though there are no shortage of reminders. Just last week we witnessed heart-rending scenes on television of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks fleeing racial violence in Kyrgyzstan.
Unfortunately, the world is largely a hostile place for refugees. Many live in the shadows – unnoticed, exploited, abused, and unwelcomed.

It would be nice to say that things are different in Malaysia but they are not. Scattered across our nation are dozens of “detention centres,” our own little gulags, where thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants are incarcerated under appalling conditions.

They are deprived of even their most basic rights and endure countless indignities. Many are abused, suffer from malnutrition and die of disease. And, as even the government has acknowledged, they are often trafficked and sold into slavery as well, with the connivance of corrupt officials.

Unsurprisingly, riots break out from time to time in the camps. I suppose you can only push people so far before they break. These are not violent people, just desperate people.

Of course, there are no westerners detained in such camps for no western government would allow its citizens to be so treated, and neither would we dare treat them so. No, the camps are for those who have been abandoned by their own countries.

The vast majority in our camps, for example, are refugees fleeing repression and ethnic cleansing at the hands of Myanmar’s brutal military regime.
To our great shame, they find only hostility and further abuse here. Between 2002 and 2008, more than 4,800 Myanmar refugees were whipped for “immigration offences.” In reality, they were whipped simply for running away from the death and destruction that stalks them in their own land.
And the sad part is that these abuses have been going on for years as a consequence of official indifference and neglect.

In 1995, Irene Fernandez published a major report drawing attention to the abuse, torture and inhumane conditions in our detention centres. Instead of investigating conditions in the camps, the government of the day turned on Irene with a vengeance not often seen in our country. Irene endured nearly 13 years of harassment before she was finally acquitted by the High Court of the charge of maliciously publishing false news.

The 18th century English philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Good men in government did nothing about the abuse, and evil prevailed.
And it continues, as recent reports by Suaram, Amnesty International and others, clearly show. More Malaysians should take time to read the reports; they will be shocked to discover what is being done in their name.
When the government is prodded by international pressure or by negative publicity, action is quickly promised. Real change, however, is slow in coming.

In February this year, for example, the Home Ministry announced that the government was in the final stages of issuing identification cards to refugees so that they would get at least some recognition and protection. Unfortunately, “final stages” can last a very long time in Malaysia; the cards have still not been issued.
If there is political will and public support, surely it is not impossible to find a just solution to this problem. Surely a country that routinely takes in hundreds of thousands of contract workers can find a way to temporarily absorb the 80,000 to 100,000 refugees that now live in Malaysia. They might benefit our economy instead of being a drag on our international image and a blight on our conscience.

To be sure, the whole Myanmar refugee issue is a complex one and requires concerted action and coordination at the regional and international level. Malaysia should not be left to shoulder this problem alone. And certainly, national reconciliation in Myanmar is urgently needed, as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak recently pointed out.

At the end of the day, however, we have a responsibility under our own laws as well as under international humanitarian law to treat refugees with the care and compassion they deserve.
Malaysians make much about our faith in God. It is time we acted as men and women of faith. We must show mercy and compassion because we believe that God is compassionate and merciful. Our confession of faith is only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal if it is not matched by justice and compassion for these, the least of the least.

World Refugee Day has gone by without much fanfare but it is up to each and every Malaysian to give it meaning by sparing a thought for or lending a hand to help the refugees in our midst. It is up to us really if evil will triumph or not.

> Datuk Dennis Ignatius is a 36-year veteran of the Malaysian foreign service. He has served in London, Beijing and Washington and was ambassador to Chile and Argentina. He was twice Undersecretary for American Affairs. He retired as High Commissioner to Canada in July 2008.

Saturday 19 June 2010

Take urgent steps to address plight of Rohingyas

Source from thestar, 18 June 2010

Rohingya refugees are a forgotten group in South-East Asia, and their children are facing many challenges.
Out of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees, only 18,800 are registered with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

They are being marginalised and unspecific numbers of them are living life in sub-human conditions. They are considered illegal immigrants in this region.
Activists in Malaysia have found that there are at least over 8,000 school-age children who are deprived of their basic rights to education and other needs.

A number of them become street children as they need to find the means to survive.
In late 2009, the Malaysian Government announced that the Rohingya refugee children would be allowed access to our public schools, but this is a commitment that remains on paper only.
The education authorities at the local level still stick to the prior situation whereby the refugees are deemed illegal and thus their children cannot attend public schools.

Sadly, the Rohingya refugees are not being treated like the other non-Rohingya Burmese refugee children for whom volunteers from different countries are able to look into their education and financial needs.
I appeal to the international community to take urgent steps to look into the plight of these children.

Mohammad Sadek,
Program Coordinator,
Arakan Rohingya Refugee Committee (ARRC), Malaysia.