Let us Stage another Saya San Revolution

More than half a century of military dictatorship to be exact since March 2nd 1962, there have been several sporadic outburst against the ruling Junta starting from 7th July 1962 but the major ones that shakes the government was the 8888 Democracy Uprising and the Saffron Revolution of 2007. The students of 1988 and the monks of 2007 have all made supreme sacrifices for the country and people and now it is the turn of the peasants of Burma to show to the world that they are also nationalists and love the country. With so much land grabbing by the Tatmadaw and the companies owned by the cronies backed by the international companies and multilateral corporations of the West and China, it is time for the peasants and the working people to rise up against this unfair system and demonstrate to the world that Burma is owned by the people of Burma and that the people are the masters of their own fate and maker of their own destiny. The peasants who formed the majority of the population of Burma to be exact more than 70% of the people live in the country side has been a major political force since time immemorial and has a precedent of uprising  in the 1930s. 

Saya San(ဆရာစံ) Peasants Uprising 

Saya San Rebellion” of 1930-1932 in British Burma, was one of Southeast Asia's quintessential anti-colonial movements, spreading throughout the delta of Burma into hills of the Shan States; involving numerous communities, thousands of villagers and several thousand counter insurgency troopsBy the 1890s, British colonial officials had determined that the main pacification campaigns were successful, and they could concentrate on the business of building a social-economic infrastructure that could support their interest in the vast teak, mineral, and agricultural resources that their new colony provided. However, in the same year a small group of Buddhist associations with contemporary forms of organization and structure were founded by lay members in an effort to preserve the religion and its place in society. It finally pave the way for formation of the General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) which planned to participate more directly in political protest and demonstrations. In order to engage rural communities, members of GCBA would travel into countryside conducting interviews, collecting data, and filling reports to establish lines of communication with emerging village activists. Saya San joined GCBA and worked at the countryside for more than two year, so he was familiar with rural places and had direct connection with peasants.

  The Great Depression of 1930 had a devastating impact on rice prices. Rice was Burma’s most important export commodity and its fortunes on commercial markets affected much of the rural population. The high population density in central Burma and the concentration of land ownership in fewer hands created a large number of disaffected landless laborers increasingly aggrieved with colonial government, whom they lamed both their inability to work the land independently and for decline of their real incomes as rice worker. Thus, rural cultivators, already frustrated by the drop of rice price were quick to respond to Saya San’s appeals involving a mixture of anti-tax rhetoric, Buddhist prophecies and guarantees of invulnerability.

D.G.E. Hall, the pioneer of writing history on Southeast Asia and famous British Burma’s historian, traces the cause of the rebellion as political factors and economic ones. However, he also recognized the economic discontent. For those Burmese historians, Saya San was portrayed as an early nationalist hero. These interpretations stressed on economic factors, which was the cause of popular dissatisfaction. The movement was not aimless, instead, it was rational and justifiable. John Cady is the first western historian used a vast amount of British documents, including parliamentary papers and police reports, to create a narrative by recognizing the localized form of political expression. In his book “A history of modern Burma”, he wrote“…it was a deliberately planned affair based on traditional Burmese political and religious patterns.”

The Galon (*Vlef) army rebels, like the Boxers of China, carried charms and tattoos to make themselves invulnerable to British bullets. Armed only with swords and spears, Saya San’s rebels were no match for British troops with machine guns hastily called from India. The revolt was crushed, and the casualties were in thousands and nobody knows the exact figures  just like the 8888 Democracy Uprisings and Saffron Revolution the authorities never release the exact figures. In August 1931, Saya San was captured, but the rebellion had continued for nearly two years By the end of 1932, more than 10,000 rebels were killed and a further 9000 rebels had surrendered or captured. Saya San and 125 other rebels were hanged and almost 1400 were sentenced to terms of imprisonment or of transportation.

  Widespread support for Saya San betrayed the precarious and unpopular position of British rule in Burma. Saya San Rebellion was a key stage in the transition of Burmese nationalist; to the urban elite, which vividly demonstrated the survival of traditional values in the countryside but at the same time proving that a peasant uprising could only achieve temporary success without specific and negotiable aims which required modern political skill.

Land Grabbing
          Currently, 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. While some of the land was used for the expansion of military bases, new government offices or infrastructure projects, much of it was used either by military units for their own commercial purposes or sold to private companies. The threat of military force meant there was little grass roots opposition to these land seizures and few avenues to secure adequate compensation.

  Now with the new democratic order as local community’s band together to fight back against seizure of their lands there have been several problems. Many of the current land disputes date to the period before the 2010 general elections. 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. A significant proportion of the land grabbing during this period took place in ethnic-majority states in the country's peripheral regions. 

           This was especially the case in areas along the border with China in Kachin and Shan States and along the border with Thailand in the Karen and Mon States. The army has maintained a strong presence in these areas to battle ethnic freedom fighters and uphold tenuous ceasefires with other insurgent organizations. 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. Significant land grabbing also took place in the Sagaing and Irrawaddy Divisions, where these is no insurgency. 

           With new hope for an economic revival and rising property prices sparked by Thein Sein's reformist government, 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 pipelinesPolitical 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 under the previous military regime remains largely unchanged under the current administration. Indeed, these alliances are in the forefront to land lucrative joint venture deals with foreign investors. Although widely derided as "cronies" of the military, 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. Public dissatisfaction with the situation, coupled with a new openness brought about by the reform process, is leading some farmers and other land owners to protest the seizures. 

For farmers who happen to be in the way of military or business plans, land rights have improved little since a half-century era of military rule ended in 2011. Legal experts in Burma said a new law on peaceful assemblies is being used regularly to arrest, try and imprison people who stand up against land grabs by the rich and powerful. In addition, recent legislation has given the government the authority to seize land in the name of national interest. “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.” The two pieces of legislation are being used together against farmers and activists protesting land grabs and other grievances, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. 

  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 from three villages in Sagaing Division 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. A protest that included a large number of Buddhist monks supporting displaced villagers was violently broken up by police. Incendiary devices fired into the protest camp severely burned several of the monks, according to press reports. The heavy-handed crackdown sparked outrage across the country.

           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. Most recently, on February 26, 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. The farmers were protesting the confiscation of their land by the military in 1996 and its later sale to a businessman in 2004. 

A movement among farmers to win back confiscated land has spread widely across the country, with protesters in most of Burma’s biggest cities asking the President for help. In downtown Rangoon, more than 200 landowners were asked to give back land that was confiscated by the government more than two decades ago in 1991.In Mandalay, Burma’s second-biggest city, after homes in the city’s Myayeenandar Quarter were bulldozed by the municipal committee and land in the Shwe Kyat Yat area was seized by the government’s department of construction. In Mingalardon Township, north of Rangoon, more than 100 farmers staged a protest urging a land investigation commission in Naypyidaw to probe the seizure of 800 acres of land since 2010 for an industrial zone. They say they did not receive enough notice or proper compensation when the land was taken by Zaykabar Company, a major Burmese conglomerate.

If we can’t work on the land, how can we survive? We haven’t received any compensation or substitute land. That’s why we want the president to take action.” 
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. Burma’s President has proven he’s willing and eager to sell out its residents for personal gain and the benefit of his friends’ benefits. Is this the way to feed the poor of Burma? 

In May 2013, 40 ethnic non-governmental organizations from across Burma calls on the government, ethnic militias and the international community to address a surge in land-grabbing, as companies move into Burma’s ethnic regions following recent ceasefire agreements. But the two government committees on land use declined to meet the activists. Land Investment Committee, headed by Union Solidarity Development Party MP Tin Htut, and the Land Allotment and Utilization Scrutiny Committee, chaired by Win Tun Min of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry refused to meet them  as they have been directed by the Thein Sein government which has something to hide. They have their own hidden agenda.

There was a deep concern over the lack of legal protection of the ethnic land rights. They are increasingly losing farmland to mining or agro-industry firms. The 2012 Land Law and other laws, they said, often fail to recognize land tenure of farmers—especially those reliant on traditional shifting agriculture—or local customary law regarding land. Most ethnic villagers struggle to register land ownership as the procedures are too expensive or because they lack the required ID cards. Most of Burma’s ethnic nationalities live in the border regions which are rich in mineral wealth, timber, fertile land and rivers suitable for hydropower dam development. The areas are plagued by long-running ethnic rebel insurgencies against the central government.

Tatmadaw the Biggest Dacoit
An increase in resource-grabbing by military-supported investment projects could also lead to a flare-up in ethnic conflict.  Burmese military 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 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 Tatmadaw in past decades, which had resulted in the loss of 247,077 acres (about 100,000 hectares) of farmland. But a reliable source indicated that this is just one third of what the Tatmadaw has confiscated. However, up to this date nothing has been implemented.

As such, the system is largely incompetent and virtually powerless against powerful vested interests in other parts of the state or private companies. Many farmers in Burma are in debt due to a widespread inability to access credit through formal channels and the high costs of agricultural inputs. Unchecked land-grabbing has the potential to imperil both Thein Sein's political reforms and the overall economic potential of the country. The current lack of transparency and public participation in the planning and decision-making processes involved in land management has served to continue public perceptions that land transfers are frequently undertaken outside the rule of law. This has undermined local confidence in both Thein Sein's supposed democratic government and the overall reform process. The situation is compounded by an enduring attitude in the bureaucracy that treats farmers with contempt, threats and intimidation. Rising landlessness, meanwhile, will push many farmers into cities, creating a new urban underclass and a potential source of instability. 

            Growing discontent among small landowners, displaced agrarians and landless rural workers has the potential to create a powerful voting bloc in the 2015 elections. Nearly 70% of Burma's population of some 60 million live in rural areas, among which one-third are estimated to be landless laborers. Effective land reform promises thus have the potential to win massive popular support at the next polls. In apparent recognition of the importance of the rural vote, Naypyidaw-based parliamentarians are paying more attention to the plight of farmers. Both the majority Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) - commonly perceived as the party of the former military rulers - and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) have broached the topic in parliament.  

               A discussion about military land confiscations was halted in Parliament in Aug 2013 after a representative, Brig Gen Kyaw Oo Lwin, interrupted the proceedings and urged other lawmakers to move onto another topic. The Tatmadaw has forcibly seized more than 250,000 acres of farmland in the country. During the former military regime, the government allowed the Army to confiscate land to build barracks. However, the Commission found that the Army abused its power by confiscating land and selling it back to others for a profit.

A parliamentary investigation into land grabs ruled  that less than 10 percent of nearly 100,000 hectares of land confiscated by the junta would be returned. This carries enormous ethical implications for western companies, who are quickly lining up to carve a slice of Burma’s natural wealth. An offshore oil and gas tender launched in April attracted bids from a number of American and European firms, including Shell, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Statoil and Total – of which the latter remained active in Burma even after the introduction of European sanctions in 1996.

  Nonetheless, Naypyidaw has made a half-hearted efforts to assuage western predilections for “responsible investment”. In 2012, Thein Sein pledged to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – a global standard that requires the government and companies to disclose all natural resource revenue payments.  But to date, the regime has only completed two out of five steps required to become a candidate country - failing most prominently, and perhaps tellingly, to develop an inclusive multi-stakeholder working group that represents civil society across Burma’s ethnic groups. The US, to its credit, is the only country to impose reporting requirements on companies looking to invest in Burma, and also a ban on gem imports citing concerns about ongoing abuses in resource-rich minority regions, including Kachin state. This, along with the Tatmadaw’s track record of trampling on civil society voices and siphoning off public funds, should be enough to persuade investors to proceed with caution. 

  In 2013 the Asian Human Rights Commission has followed reports of a larger number of conflicts over land grabs and attempted grabs in Burma. All these events indicate that despite the extensive political changes taking place in Burma, many old habits are continuing under new guises. While the government increasingly insists that things be done according to law, the facts suggest otherwise. Administrators and other officials are on the one hand working harder to give an impression that they have the legal authority to continue with the practices of the past, but on the other hand they are continuing to fail to come up to even the minimal domestic standards required of them. Laws on the books offer extensive opportunities for the military to protect its interests; notwithstanding, military and civilian personnel alike struggle to conform to even the minimal standards of such odious legislation.

  As long as the voices of people in places like Salingyi, Nattalin, Ma-Ubin and Migyaunggan continue to be ignored, or muffled under procedures, regulations and injunctions issued to give a false impression of legality in the continued grabbing of land, it will not be possible to talk meaningfully about democracy and the rule of law in Burma. With the country's poor reputation for human-rights violations and the alleged involvement of businessmen in some of those violations, including land seizures, many foreign investors are wary of investing with partners associated with such unsavory practices. Rising governmental and parliamentary attention to the issue will also bring more scrutiny to arrangements by local and foreign firms seeking to develop land-intensive projects. Media attention will also keep the issue in the spotlight in the lead up to the 2015 elections. 

  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 makeing for a difficult environment for investors. What’s needed is an inclusive and transparent consultative process to develop a land policy, involving civil society, farmers, private sector companies (including from other sectors using land, such as forestry, mining and tourism) and other stakeholders. This needs to balance interests concerning national food security, economic development and human rights. There was a lack of transparency around the government’s granting of land concessions to companies for development, and how the existing tenants of land taken over by firms were dealt with. If Burma starts to implement a consistent and transparent Environmental and Social Impact Assessment process, as foreseen under the Environment Law and the Foreign Investment Law, this should help identify where displacement [of people] is occurring and provide a mechanism for ensuring that it is in line with international safeguards standards. But this is still a long way away from that.

Final Solution
  It seems that all major economic developments in Burma will begin with one commodity,
land. Whatever a multinational company wants to do, be it build a factory, an electrical transmission line, or dig a mine, it will need land. But, there is no land law in Burma. The people do not even have title to land that their families have owned for generations. This means that there is no proper mechanism by which to transfer land, including judicial procedures through which to resolve disputes. Burma, economically, is a corrupt and savage place. International
companies are being courted by the regime, which promises to supply the land. The regime is also using incentives - bribes - to pervert ethnic leaders that have influence in the minority homelands. Reports of inducements to such leaders (e.g. Karen traitor Mutu Say Poe) are
widespread, for example from Myanmar Egress and Dawei Princess for the multi-billion dollar Tavoy Port development. In summary, a terrible corporate rape appears primed and ready to go.

  They are a rallying cry for many groups, from the affected villagers to political groups such as 88 Generation and also ethnic nationality organizations. This creates a strong alliance, which the regime is afraid to confront. If the land is being stolen for a Western company, the protestors should rage against it. When the international business press learns that local people are protesting, the companies, to save face, will have to reverse course (witness Apple’s travails with Foxconn in China). Protest alone will stop most if not all major land thefts, and through this halt the corporate juggernaut in its tracks.

Burma remains a mostly rural country, in which the majority of the population relies on small farms for their livelihoods. Regrettably, the rate of landless farmers has been on the rise for several years. The local inhabitants repeatedly suffer serious gross human rights abuses, including forced labor, environmental degradation, bodily terrorization and improper detention, and maltreatment of livings along with land confiscation. Their capacity to prevent these impacts is hindered by their lack of information on respective projects and legal barriers made by the authorities.

The issue of land confiscation has been continued to be one of the largest problems the country has to address. The inflows of foreign investment, the liberalization of the market, and lack of rule of law including both proper legislation and self-determining courts, have resulted in land confiscation to an alarming degree. The peasants have realized that whether it is a military Junta or a quasi-military government under a guise of civilian government as long as the Tatmadaw influence is there they will have no mercy on them not mentioned fairness. Even the five million people appealing to the government to change the constitution does not move the government proves that there is no available democratic means to change this system. Hence the
 quickest solution to this land grabbing problem is for the peasants to rise against the skirt (Longyi) and headdress (Gaung Baung) wearing military to be overthrown just like what the French done to their royalty in 1789. A well-coordinated the 2nd Saya San Peasant revolution is the quickest way for Burma to get rid of this vehemently hated Tatmadaw. So the NLD, 8888 generations, the ethnic nationalities including those in Diaspora should coordinate among themselves and make a concerted drive.

The author can be reached directly bathannwin@gmail.com

Read More

BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Rejoicing prematurely or back to the square one?

 Now that the Thein Sein regime has accepted the use of the word “Federal” in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and even vowed to implement it to transform the country into a federal union, it seems the main stumbling block has been removed in its negotiation for a peaceful, political settlement with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), an umbrella organization of the some 16 ethnic armed groups.

According to RFA report, on 15 August 2014, “The government has accepted the demand to establish a Federal Union, which ethnic armed groups have been asking after for a long time,” said Naing Han Tha, leader of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team [NCCT] set up by 16 armed ethnic groups to negotiate a ceasefire deal with the government.
Naing Han Tha said federalism was the biggest obstacle in efforts to frame a ceasefire agreement, but now that the government has agreed to it, the remaining talks should go smoothly.

After the government agrees with that part, the rest is not difficult to discuss, I guess,” he said.
Meanwhile, RFA reported, on 16 August 2014, one Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), government affiliated set up, staff said that the NCCT's demand of federalism based on democracy, equality and rights of self-determination, was accepted only as a discussion topic, which would be further discussed at the stage of political dailogue phase.

Min Zaw Oo, one of the MPC staff, said that the government alone cannot decide the issue of political system change and that the altering of system would be made according to the result or outcome of the forthcoming, political discussion.

According to Myitmakha Media Group report, on 12 November 2013: The government has not placed many restrictions on holding political discussion apart from prohibiting any sign of secession from the union and violation the sovereignty of the state, Union Minister U Aung Min of the President Office said at the meeting between Union Ministers and political parties held on 11 November 2013.

There are not so much restrictions in political discussion. The first point is to stop saying secession from the union and the second is to forbid political parties from showing any sign of violation the state’s sovereignty. All parties have already been informed that they can discuss all matters except these two points,” he said. 

As the proposals for establishing the federal union are under consideration, the Constitution and the armed force that guarantee federalism will appear, he added.

It’s right to discuss ceasefire, but I think issues that have to be politically resolved are to be discussed in political dialogue,” said U Hla Maung Shwe of leader of Technical Team of Union Peace Making Work Committee.
In short, it could be taken as we are all back to the square one. This rhetoric, which suppose to be the ground-breaking news in accommodating the non-Burman ethnic armed groups' demand for the acceptance of a federal set up first, so that nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) could be signed, has not materialized, as expected by the NCCT. To put it differently, the government has fallen back on its old position, delaying tactics of "open for discussion at a later date " after the signing of NCA.

Meanwhile, The Irrawaddy reported, on 15 August 2014: Burma’s President Thein Sein is “failing” in the eyes of the public, according to a poll of more than 6,500 people conducted by a local environmental and social advocacy group.

Though receiving higher marks than in late 2012, the three-stage survey found that the president scored 27 out of a maximum score of 100 at the end of last year, down from the 32 that he scored when respondents were polled in mid-2013. Thein Sein scored 21 when the preliminary poll was conducted in late 2012.

The group Advancing Life and Regenerating Motherland (Alarm), which works on environmental conservation and social affairs research in Burma, on Thursday released the survey, which also gauged public opinion on the performance of government generally and members of Parliament.

Protests against an electricity rate increase, land disputes and Burma’s ongoing civil war with ethnic minority groups were all deemed liabilities for Thein Sein by respondents. The arrest of activists protesting the controversial Letpadaung copper mine, the country’s still unreformed Constitution and a visit by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to Burma in late 2013 were also cited as unfavourable developments.

In a video interview, following the survey publicizing, Win Myo Thu President of ALARM said that in order to get a better scoring Thein Sein regime could do two things. One is to uplift the economy so that it benefits the people; and the other, to implement policy that could score political marks for the regime. While working for the betterment of the economy is time consuming and would take times to see result, creating a favourable political climate could be implemented in a matter of short term undertakings. He stressed that for example, arranging a four parties meeting, as called for by various pressure groups, between President Thein Sein, House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi; and allowing a favourable political give-and-take to achieve peace and reconciliation with the ethnic groups; would go a long way in scoring a better poll result, in a short run. And these gains could put him in a good stead, when nationwide general election take place in 2015.

Such being the case, the government should seriously think and spell out its clear position on the acceptance of federalism as a governing system, rather than placing the issue as just an ordinary one to be discussed at the political dialogue phase, without certainty or really committing to it.

Read More

Decentralization or Co-opting Ethnonationalism: 8 States or 14 States and Regions?

Lately, the question of whether 8 States or 14 States and Regions should be used for the equitable power-sharing solution, in rebuilding a genuine federal union, has rear its head and come up again, as a main sticking point for the fusion of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), the two Shan political parties.

SNLD is headed by Hkun Htoon Oo, which had won the second place in 1990 nationwide election after Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy (NLD) and came out first in Shan State. SNDP is led by Sai Aik Pao, which came out third in 2010 nationwide election, after Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and National Unity Party (NUP).


First, let us go back to the historical backdrop of how the 6 Ethnic States and Pyi-Ma or Mother State come into being, after the British had left Burma, in 1948.

On the eve of independence from the British in 1948, Chin Hills Special Division was carved out of Arakan Division, with the capital at Falam. On January 4, 1974, it was granted the state status and became Chin State.

The Burmese government under Aung San reached the Panglong Agreement with the Shan, Kachin, and Chin peoples on 12 February 1947. The agreement accepted "Full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas" in principle and envisioned the creation of a Kachin State by the Constituent Assembly. Kachin State was formed in 1948 out of the British Burma civil districts of Bhamo and Myitkyina, together with the larger northern district of Puta-o.

Shan State:
On 28 November 1885, the British captured Mandalay, officially ending the Third Anglo-Burmese War in just 11 days. But it was only in 1890 that the British were able to subdue all of Shan states. Under the British colonial administration, established in 1887, the Shan states were ruled by their saophas as feudatories of the British Crown. The British however placed Kachin Hills inside Mandalay Division and northwestern Shan areas under Sagaing Division. In October 1922, the Shan states, and Karenni states were merged to create the Federated Shan States, under a commissioner who also administered the Wa State. This arrangement survived the constitutional changes of 1923 and 1937.

During World War II, most of Shan States were occupied by the Japanese. Chinese Kuomingtang (KMT) forces came down to northeastern Shan states to face the Japanese. Thai forces, allied with the Japanese, occupied Kengtung and surrounding areas in 1942.
After the war, the British returned, while many Chinese KMT forces stayed inside Burmese Shan states. Negotiations leading to independence at the Panglong Conference in February 1947 secured a unitary Shan State, including former Wa states but without the Karenni states. More importantly, Shan State gained the right of secession in 10 years from independence.

The Constitution of the Union of Burma in 1947 proclaimed that the three Karenni States be amalgamated into a single constituent state of the union, called Karenni State. It also provided for the possibility of secession from the Union after 10 years.

In August 1948, the Karenni leader U Bee Htu Re was assassinated by central government militia for his opposition to the inclusion of the Karenni State in the Union of Burma. An armed uprising swept the state that has continued to the present-day.

In 1952, the former Shan State of Mong Pai (1901. pop - 19,351) was added to Karenni State, and the whole renamed Kayah State, possibly with the intent of driving a wedge between the Karenni (in Kayah State) and the rest of the Karen people (in Karen State), both fighting for independence.

Since Burmese independence in 1948, the Karen relationship with Burma has been primarily political. The old Karenni states formed Kayah State, and in 1952 the Burmese government established Karen State with Pa-an as its capital. During the 1964 peace negotiations, the name was changed to the traditional Kawthoolei, but under the 1974 constitution the official name reverted to Karen State.

In 1974, Mon State was created out of portions of Tenesserim Division and Pegue Division, partly to calm down the demand for rights of self-determination and separative tendency of the Mon resistance movement.

Arakan independence, spear-headed by the Arakan resistance movement have been ongoing, since the early 1950. In part to appease this sentiment, in 1974, the socialist government under General Ne Win constituted Arakan State from Arakan Division giving at least nominal acknowledgement of the regional majority of the Arakan people.

Burma Proper/ Pyi-Ma:
Various names have been in used concerning the homeland of Bama or Burman.  "Bama Pyi"-meaning: Bama State or Country-, "Myanmar Pyi" - Myanmar State or Country-, "Ministerial Burma, Burma Proper or Pyi-Ma", were used interchangeably. But the name Pyi-Ma is seldom used in official documents and instead used or refer to as "the remaining territories of the Union of Burma", in the 1947 Union of Burma Constitution.

According to Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, in his article " Putting Burma Back Together Again", writes :

In truth, the 1947 Constitution contravenes the Panglong Spirit. The principle contravention is the setting up of one state -- the Burma State or Burma Proper -- as the Mother State (Pyi-Ma, in Burmese).

What this means is that the Burma State, as the Pyi-Ma or Mother State, was the central power to which other member states of the Union were, or have to be, subordinated to. Clearly, such an arrangement is colonial in nature. And equally clear is the fact that the 1947 Constitution does not in any way, shape, or form fits in with the Panglong Spirit. A return to the 1947 Constitution or a similar kind of arrangement is therefore not adequate.

The understanding was that the peoples and leaders of the Frontier Areas would join with the Burman nationalist forces to jointly fight for independence, and that a federal Union (Pyidaungzu, in Burmese) of equal states, guaranteeing self-determination for all ethnic segments, would be established.

However, the constitution (the 1947 Union Constitution) which emerged was, from the viewpoint of the non-Burman leaders, not federal, but a centralized, or semi-unitary one. It was one where one constituent state, Ministerial Burma or Burma Proper, occupied the position or status of the mother-state (Pyi-Ma, in Burmese). The relationship was one like that which existed between England, the mother state, and Scotland, and Wales. The other seven states were not equal members of the Union, and were at best semi-autonomous, but subordinated entities vis-à-vis the Burman mother-state. Their status and competencies were defined not in the respective state constitutions— there were none— but in sections of the Union constitution which, in essence, was the constitution of Burma proper, the mother-state.


Recent set-up of 14 States and Regions, unitary system with some power devolving to the states; and 8 States-based federal arrangement, within the mould of federalism are two schools of thought, which are being considered to reach political settlement between the military-dominated government, the ethnic nationalities and democratic opposition groups.

Generally the non-Burman ethnic groups considered that in order to be a genuine and equitable federal union, there is no other way than creating a Bama State, as equal partner, in relation to the other ethnic states.

According to the NCGUB Border Office documentation, written in Burmese, on "Federal Proposal Petition", Sao Shwe Thaike tabled a personal letter to the Constitutional Amendment Committee, on 22 December 1960, which part of the letter writes:

"To observe the past 13 years of practical implementation of the Union of Burma Constitution, it seems like the constitutional law has allowed to practice the doctrine of "racism". Burma Proper or Myanmar Pyi-Ma has not function as a state, but seems to have administered and taken the place of the British colonial master. It is not like voluntary fusion of all the constituent states, but looks like becoming subordinate states under Myanmar Pyi-Ma domination. The States have to ask everything from it and there have been no rights of self-determination, under the constitution; and it is entirely up to the Union Government in the administration of the states."

He further pointed out: " The real essence of "Federation" should be that Myanmar Pyi-Ma should have equal rights and treated as an equal constituent state as all the other states. But according to the present constitution, Myanmar Pyi-Ma is having the advantage of usurping the power of union and that was why the other states were dissatisfied with it."
In a foreword written by the well known, Bama politician, Thein Pe Myint for an article written by U Htun Myint (Taunggyi) titled, “An equal Shan State within the Union”, on 24 February 1961, writes: “ If it is a union all states should have equal rights. To be equal, the first thing to do is to change and organize Myanmar Pyi-Ma into a state. The union will become genuine only when all equal states merge together.”

The States Unity Organization, made up of all non-Burman ethnic groups within Burma, submitted a document in January 1962, which part of it writes:

1. To ensure that the Union of Myanmar becomes a true federal union,it must be based on the national stand that all states coming together to form the union are equal. Therefore a true federal union cannot be a combination of Myanmar Proper and the states. Myanmar Proper must be established as a state, after which a true federal union of states should be formed.
2. as the usurpation of the central powers of government by Myanmar Proper means a lack of equality, thereby creating dissatisfaction, we strongly desire the removal of this dissatisfaction by establishing a Union of Myanmar with Myanmar Proper as one of the constituent states. (Source: History of Shan State; by: Sai Aung Tun; page 443.)

Another school of thought, which have resigned to the thought that the military-dominated government would not budge from its presidential unitary system with 14 States and Regions, have devised some plans on how to make the best out from the existing situation.

Examples of what could be done to enhance the decentralized aspects of the present constitutional framework in order to strengthen its federal features - with or in many cases without  amendments  to the 2008 Constitution – would be:
  • to delegate more administrative and financial resources to the States and Regions, to delegate by union law the implementation of union legislation to States and Regions,
  • to boost their share in public expenditure,
  • to allow them a margin of deviation from national policy frameworks to adjust union norms to their particular social and geographic circumstances,
  • to allow State and Region governments to coordinate positions amongst themselves vis-à-vis the union government,
  • to develop a modern framework for decentralization of administrative services to the local level, both in urban and rural areas and move towards local self-government.
  • to allow States and Regions to take their own decisions facilitating the use of local languages beside Myanmar language,
  • to increase the availability of disaggregated data which should make planning and investments by sub-national governments more tailored to local needs,
  • to allow more genuine public participation of citizens and access to government at the local and Region/State level.
(Source: Constitutionalism and Legal Change in Myanmar Workshop, 13-14 Feb 2014 Singapore
Towards “genuine federalism”?- By: Marcus Brand)

Another gist guideline recommendation made by the Asia foundation on reform process are as follows:

Rationalize state and region government administration and human resources
  • Further clarify the roles and responsibilities of the state and region departments
  • Separate state/region departments from union ministry structures; programmes and incentives for relocating civil servants
  • Consider creating state/region civil service organizations
  • Support state and region ministers’ and departments’ independence from the General Administration Department
  • Role of GAD as state/region government office in Constitution
  • Civil service reform & restructuring a challenge
Deepen the deconcentration process within union ministries
  • Policy framework for line ministries to further deconcentrate responsibilities across administrative levels
  • Capacity support to line ministries as they deconcentrate, and to state and region ministry offices as they take on new tasks
  • Ensure resources for functions at state/region level are predictable and transparent; modest budget deconcentration
  • Ensure offices engage in participation and outreach with state and region governments and hluttaws, as well as civil society and communities
  • Care needed to avoid unfunded responsibilities
Broaden the scope of state and region government responsibilities
  • Consider including aspects of education policy and provision including hiring and language of instruction in state/region legislative or administrative list
  • Foster more state and region participation in the management of significant natural resources, and approval and oversight of natural resource extraction and development concessions and projects, possible involving state and region authorities in EITI
  • Modification of Schedule Two, or addition of functions through union law
Strengthen public expenditure management, budgeting and resource allocation
  • Strengthen tax policy and administration at state and region level
  • Improve union public financial management capacity for fiscal projections
  • Revise allocation of the Poverty Reduction Fund & develop intergovernmental fiscal arrangements
  • Ensure donor programmes support state and region planning, budgeting and monitoring capacities
  • Support Union Financial Commission to develop and apply transparent fiscal policies
  • Improve clarity of national accounting and budget presentation
  • Budget comprehensiveness challenge
Develop a transparent and rules-based intergovernmental fiscal system
  • Consider wealth sharing arrangements including what should be included, who collects, and the formula
  • Consider the overall transfer system including what functions must be financed, what equity and policy goals are important, and what will encourage good governance, revenue or service performance.
  • Policies for management of foreign financial flows in relation to states and regions
  • Participation of peace process stakeholders
Strengthen the political autonomy of the state/region government
  • Support state and region hluttaws to function more effectively in legislative and oversight roles, especially for small hluttaws
  • Consider how to increase Chief Minister accountability to state/region
  • Comprehensive communication and constituency engagement strategies at the state/region level
  • Rules on hluttaw formation or size
  • Rules on Chief Minister appointment
(Source: The Asia Foundation: State and Region Governments in Myanmar; September 2013)


The basic argument whether the 14 States and Regions configuration with the a built-in unitary system could accommodate the ethnic nationalities demand for full fledged federal system of governance is an open question.

The splitting of Burma Proper or Pyi-Ma into 7 Divisions, in BSPP era, and later changed to 7 Regions by 2008 Constitution, and the subsequent acceptance of the SLORC , SPDC and present Thein Sein government is to pre-empt the ethnic groups' bargaining position and ensure Bama majority superior posture in all political decision-making power. While the Bama military leaders like to portray this diversifying Pyi-Ma as an act of decentralization, the real motivation is more to balance the ethnic bargaining power.

The understanding that the federal union be formed, along the 8 major ethnic line, with built-in minorities' rights, has been the norm all along. And the splitting of Pyi-Ma into 7 Regions is a direct assault to the territorial-ethnic-based federal agreement, and replace it with just a territorial-based federal system. In other words, it is aimed at diluting the ethnic identities and co-opting ethnonationalism with the replacement of individual, civil and citizenship rights.

During a short-lived parliamentary era from 1948 to 1962, with the exception of care-taker, military rule from 1958 to 1960, the Bama have always been the majority in Chamber of Nationalities and also in Chamber of Deputies, under 1947 Union of Burma Constitution. In Chamber of Nationalities, the Bama-dominated areas were represented with 62 seats, while the combined ethnic states were just 63. In the Chamber of deputies, needless to say, the Bama, having the numerical majority within the country, dominates the parliament.

The one party system rule of BSPP era was a military rule, in fact, and the military is dominated by the Bama, as it is also the case now.

The present, military-backed Thein Sein regime also act like the parliamentary era, with the Bama-dominated military calling the shots in all aspects of political and social lives. No wonder, House speaker Thura Shwe Mann said that he would have no rejection on federal system governance installation, if 14 states and regions configuration is accepted. The ethnic nationalities see this as a pre-empt act to undercut the ethnic veto position in a federal set-up; and the successive regimes just follow the remake of Burma Proper for this is an advantaged position vis-a-vis the ethnic nationalities.

The argument of the ethnic groups today is still the same as the demand spelled out in 1961, documented by the Shan Federal Proposal, i.e., the creation of a Bama State, as an equal constituent state like all the others; amendment of the 1947 Union of Burma Constitution, according to the 1962 Shan Federal Proposal; and last but not least, to refine or fine-tune the whole process according to the existing political nature of the day.


Whatever the case, whether the rebuilding of a federal form of governance happens within the mould of 8 States or 14 States and Regions, the empowerment and protection of the sub-states' or sub-national units' minorities have to be guaranteed constitutionally.

A geographical configuration of a federal state, including one that heavily relies on ethnicity in the making of sub-national units, don’t leave us with separate ethnically pure territorial units. Be it indigenous ethnic groups (i.e. indigenous to the area they inhabit) or ethnic migrants, there will always be ethnic minorities that are scattered in the midst of regional majorities. It is also indicated that federalism may not adequately respond to the security and respect of intra-substate minorities. A federal arrangement that grants a mother state to a numerically dominant ethnic group within a territorial unit often exposes minority groups to discriminatory policies of the regionally dominant group. Such an arrangement would only move the locus of inter-ethnic conflict and tension from the central government to the level of the constituent units. Of particular importance in any multi-ethnic federation is thus the need to take into account the interest and rights of intra-substate minorities. Securing the rights of minorities which are created by autonomy arrangements is crucial for the long term success of any federal arrangement

It is submitted addressing the anxieties of regional minorities requires the state to accept that the constituent units are sharing with the larger state the same problem of accommodating ethnic diversities but only at a constituent unit level. In prescribing a particular response, however, a distinction has to be made between ethnic groups that are scattered throughout the country, on the one hand, and those that are territorially concentrated but do not have their own self-governing unit, on the other. For the former, the application of aspects of self rule and shared rule, owing to their territorial dimension, may not be appealing. The anxieties of such geographically dispersed ethnic groups can be addressed by adopting a judicially enforceable bill of rights. For geographically concentrated ethnic groups, on the other hand, the constituent units, recognising their multi-ethnic character, can apply, to the extent possible, processes and institutions of both self rule and shared-rule. (Source: IACL World Congress, Mexico 2010 - Federalism and intra-substate minorities: First draft)

In Burma context, Shan State's Pa-o, Palaung, Danu, Intha, Wa and the likes will fall into sub-national units' minorities. In Kachin State, the Red Tai will fall into this category. In Irrawaddy Region, the Karen will be the case.In Sagaing Region, Shan, Naga and Chin will be minorities, while the Bama will be in majority, and so on.

In short, any attempt made to transform the unitary to federal system will have to incorporate “self rule, shared rule and adopting a judicially enforceable bill of rights” for the sub-national units' minorities, if reconciliation and peaceful co-habitation is to be achieved in Burma.

NOTE: “The Making of 6 States and Myanmar Pyi-Ma” part is written with the reference of 1947 Union of Burma Constitution, 1974 BSPP Constitution, Chao Tzang Yawnghwe's various articles and numerous other sources.)

Read More

Uprooting Insurgency

Uprooting Insurgency
General Staff College

The document, which was among others that fell into the hands of the Shan State Army (SSA) two years earlier, gives the reader a fresh look at the 69 years old armed forces of Burma that calls itself the Tatmadaw.

It is 50 pages thick with, 4 chapters sub-divided into 147 sections.

The year of its publication is not mentioned. But, reading through it, it appears to have been written after 1998 (when the Shan United Revolutionary Army became the SSA South) and before 2009 (when the 17 armed organizations had concluded ceasefire with the military government). It notes that there were only three armed groups to be reckoned with, namely: Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the SURA aka SSA South.

Chapter 1 is “Knowing insurgency.”

It delves into the histories of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) whose members are “allowed to live in Yunnan opposite Muse with the promise not to engage in politics” and the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) that had “at present established peace with the government.”

Chapter 2 “Combating insurgency” talks about counter-insurgency experiences of Algeria Malaya, Kenya and Sri Lanka “which is still far from peaceful today.”
Operations against insurgency, it counsels, include:
  • Conventional operations
  • Non-conventional operations
  • Non-military approaches:
    Political, economic, social, administrative and diplomatic
Chapter 3 is “Counter-insurgency doctrines” that devotes one and a half pages to the employment of People’s Militia strategy, which has been developed since 1964. “It must not be formed only during emergencies but must be organized and trained to be ready at all times for the defense of the nation.” During peace time, the People’s Militia Forces (PMFs) will be engaged in state building, local security and combating “internal armed destructionists.”
Chapter 4 “What should be done” includes, among others, the “Four Cuts” tactics, which many Burma watchers, including the reviewer here, have mistakenly taken as cutting food, funds, intelligence and recruits.
However, the booklet is unambiguous about it. It says in Section 123:
  1. a)Cutting provisions
  2. b)Cutting (monetary) contributions
  3. c)Cutting communications
  4. d)Killing (That-phyat)
“That” means “kill” and “phyat” means “cut” but “That-phyat” together means “kill.”
License to rape
Apart from that there are several pages on 100 do’s and don’ts in dealing with insurgency, such as # 63. “one must refrain from aims and actions that can be construed as narrow racism” and # 64- Such offenses must be promptly taken action against and must be informed to the populace.

After reading it, one thing does occur to me: Isn’t it about time the Burmese government considers changing its Burmese rendering of the English word “Insurgent”? If the current peace process is for real?

In English, “insurgent” which, the dictionary says, comes from the Latin word “insurgere” (rise), meaning a person fighting a government of their own country. In the past, such a person was known as “Tha-bon” (which happens to sound like “The bone”), conveying a neutral sense. But the Burma Army’s rendering “Thaung Gyan Thu” means “one who is on a rampage “or “one who has gone berserk,” which may not go well with the peace process that President Thein Sein has initiated.

I remember one of my friends who is a member of a Shan group that had made its peace with Naypyitaw. (Hint: He used to be one of the famous fighters) One Burmese general reportedly asked him, “How could such a gentle and decent fellow like you become a thaung gyan thu?” And he replied, “It was the Burma Army that did it. They killed our people, burned our homes and raped our women. They jailed my father and they were hot on my heels. What would you do in my place?”

So, after all is said and done, who’s the real thaung gyan thu?

Read More

A journey through the heart of Indochina

Photo Exhibition
Alliance Francaise Chiang Rai
Mysterious Mekong:”
A journey through the heart of Indochina

Reinhard Hohler, Chiang Mai/Thailand

August 29 – September 4, 2014
An exhibition of photographs by Reinhard Hohler will be organized by the new established Alliance Francaise in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, starting on September 1.
The unique collection of photos is featuring the Mekong River, the longest river in Southeast Asia, which is more and more threatened by the building of dams and industrial development schemes.

Through his photographs, Reinhard Hohler attempts to give the visitor an in-depth perspective on the different geographical, historical and economic aspects of the Mekong River, which runs through the heart of Indo-China. The river should be protected accordingly.

The 72 photographs highlight the landscapes and scenery seen during an expedition in November 2002, which started in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan/China, passing through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, before ending in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. The exhibition includes photos marking the group’s visit to the gravesite of the famous French explorer Henri Mouhot in Luang Prabang, the transfer of the group’s hovercraft around the scenic Khone Falls on the Lao-Cambodia border, as well as a side trip to the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia and Oc Eo in Viet Nam.

When the expedition had finally arrived in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam, there was the first continuous navigation of the Mekong River successfully completed.

Reinhard Hohler, 63, is an experienced tour director and media travel consultant on the Greater Mekong Sub-region. He was born in Karlsruhe/Germany, a port on Europe’s Rhine River. After studying geology in his hometown and ethnology, geography and political science at Heidelberg University, Reinhard Hohler moved to Thailand and lives in Chiang Mai since 1987.
Venue: Central Plaza in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand

For further information, please contact Mr. Guy Heidelberger by e-mail: chiangrai@alliance-francaise.or.th

Read More

President Thein Sein Should Reveal Role in ’88 Massacre


For Immediate Release Monday 4th August 2014

As the 26th anniversary of the 88 massacre and crackdown approaches, Burma Campaign UK today launches a campaign calling on President Thein Sein to publish his full army record and reveal his role during this time. 

When he became President, Thein Sein described the massacre and crackdown as having ‘saved the nation’.

A leaked US embassy diplomatic cable dated 20th October 2004 said Thein Sein ’distinguished’ himself cracking down against the 1988 uprising. It stated: ‘Major Thein Sein served as commander of Light Infantry Division (LID)-55, one of the elite organizations loyal to the Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP). In that capacity, he distinguished himself, as did Soe Win, in the crackdown against the 1988 uprising in support of democracy.’

Burma Campaign UK is asking people to email President Thein Sein, asking him to publish his full army record, including the role he played in crushing the uprising on 8th August 1988. The people of Burma have the right to know the past actions of the President. The email action is online here: 

President Thein Sein has been praised by the international community, including the British government, as a reformer. Yet horrific human rights abuses have continued under his rule. Now that sanctions have been lifted and aid and trade is flowing into Burma, reforms are going into reverse, with new crackdowns on media freedom, a doubling of the number of political prisoners, and increased repression against the Rohingya ethnic minority. 

“If President Thein Sein has nothing to hide, he has no reason not make his full army record available for everyone in Burma to see,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “There has been virtually no public scrutiny of President Thein Sein’s past.  If President Thein Sein has been involved in massacring students protesting on the streets of Rangoon, is he really the kind of person who can be trusted to bring democracy and human rights to Burma?”

For more information contact Anna Roberts on 07950849529.

Burma Campaign UK’s briefing paper on President Thein Sein is available here: 

Read More


Allwebsitetools © 2014 Shan Herald Agency for News All Rights Reserved