Update on Ethnic Nationalities Issues in Burma
By Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Canadian NGO Consultation Meeting on Burma
Canadian Council for International Cooperation
1 Nicholas Street, Ottawa
Friday 14 January 2005
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about the ethnic nationalities, an issue of great importance in the politics of Burma today. When we talk about non-Burman ethnic nationalities issue in Burma, some people have the wrong impression that it is a minority issue representing only a very small percentage of the country’s population.
It is estimated that there are about 50 million people in Burma. Of this, about 40% of the populations are non-Burman ethnic nationalities who inhabit more than 55% of the land area in the country. The issue of non-Burman ethnic people, by any standards, is not a minority problem.
In fact, ethnic nationalities issue in Burma is not a minority issue, nor just one of the many problems facing the country. The issue of ethnic nationalities in Burma is an issue of serious concern that needs to be paid serious attention to.
Instead of going into details, I will try to limit myself to a brief update on the situation since I realize that most of you have been closely involved with Burma issues and have a deep sense of understanding and knowledge about the country’s situation.
After the power reshuffle within the SPDC in October 2004, the overall human rights and political situation in the country is heading from bad to worst. Even though thousands of prisoners have been released by the SPDC in recent months, many more political prisoners remain behind bar, and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi has been extended for at least another year.
There was evidence of mounting tensions between one of the ceasefire groups, United Was State Army (UWSA) and the Burmese army Artillery Battalion No. 348, Infantry Battalion 312 in Maingmaw areas since November 2004.
In Shwe-go area of Kachin state, the Burmese army had seized the former Kachin Independence Army (KIA) base, and as a result, mounting tension between the KIO and the SPDC was reported. The KIO is one of the main ethnic armed groups that have reached a ceasefire agreement with the SPDC more than a decade a go.
It is reported that the SPDC is preparing for major offensive against Shan State Army (Southern) by deploying a large number of troops in southern Shan state.
In Karenni state, the Karenni ceasefire groups and the SPDC attacked Karenni National Progressive Party camp on January 10, 2005 and the battle is still going on.
In Karen state, during the Karen National Union 13th congress in December, the SPDC troops terrorized and burned 10 Karen villages that resulted in the displacement of at least 1000 Karen villagers.
As the New Year begins, Karen National Liberation Army 201 Battalion headquarter is under attack by the SPDC troops and the battle is still going on.
The SPDC has reneged on the verbal ceasefire agreement between itself and the KNU in 2004. Furthermore, the efforts made by religious leaders to reach ceasefire agreement between the KNPP and SPDC have been rendered meaningless because the SPDC has deliberately attacked the base of KNPP.
In Chin State, the SPDC has just destroyed the only remaining cross planted by Chin Christian in Matupi town of southern Chin State on January 3, 2005 on the eve of Burma’s independence day. About 90% of Chins are Christian and religious persecution is major concern in Chin state.
On the other hand the SPDC announced that the “National Convention,” which was suspended indefinitely in 2004 is going to be reconvened on February 17, 2004.
When the convention was called in May 2004, 1088 representatives, most of whom are handpicked by the junta, attended the convention. During the Convention only ethnic armed groups were able to seriously discuss political matters and ethnic national affairs. The convention was suspended when the 13 “ceasefire” ethnic armed groups submitted a proposal on federal system, greater autonomy and control over natural resources by member state in the country.
It is likely that the ethnic armed groups who have reached ceasefire agreement with the SPDC will attend the National Convention in February with the same proposal they have brought in the previous Convention. If the SPDC continues to refuse the proposal made by the ceasefire groups, it is possible that they will walk away from the Convention.
The recent movement of the SPDC in the ethnic areas clearly shows that they are in favor of confrontation when dealing with the ethnic issues. Today, the ethnic nationalities in Burma are fighting for their very survival as a people. The problems of ethnic nationalities could only be remedied through fundamental change in the political system, a change that would allow them equitable representation in the decision-making process of the country.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization