An Independent Survey of Events in Myanmar
Religion for Peace and Freedom from Fear
Address by the Sitagu Sayadaw to a visiting US delegation
On 21 August 2014 the Sitagu Sayadaw delivered an address to members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom who yesterday issued a press release on their visit. The essence of the Sayadaw's message is contained in the conclusion of his address:
"I would like to say that Myanmar is facing various problems and difficulties. Because it was under colonial rule for nearly a hundred years and even after independence, it was fighting civil and communal war for nearly sixty years. Many organizations from abroad came to Myanmar with the intention of solving such problems. But, instead of solving it, we found that they sometimes made the situation worse and worse. Therefore I would like to request you to find a better solution for such problems.
"What I would next like to say is that the Myanmar government is now trying to establish internal peace and stability with the intention of ceasing civil war and communal violence. At this crucial juncture, some religious extremists are frustrating the process with provocative statements and actions. I would like to request you to give your hands in the process of solving problems and conflicts. A methodical approach is essential for the peace process. It is also necessary not to make things from bad to worse and more complicated.
"As devout Buddhists, we also promise that we are going to solve these problems without violence and we will do it firmly standing on the teaching of the Buddha, that is tolerance, forgiveness, serving society, sacrifice for others and rationality."
Derek Tonkin writes: The Sayadaw' s message is one we can all take to our hearts. He also had some strong words to say about British colonialism. While some of his comments are difficult to refute, his remark that "many Africans were imported as slaves when the United States of America was established. In the same way, the English rulers illegally imported labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for the hard labour during their rule," merits some respectful comment.
As is well known, until 1 April 1937 Burma was a province of India, and there were no border controls between India and Burma. Indeed, until the Japanese invasion in late 1941, Bengalis crossed freely into Arakan without let or hindrance. As both Burmese and Indians were "British Subjects", this meant that they had the same status and could visit and take up legal residence in either country virtually at will. In October 1941 an agreement between the (British) Governments of India and Burma regulated Indian migration into Burma for the first time ever, but the Agreement was not ratified by the time of the Japanese invasion two months later, and so never came into force. The Agreement recognised however that all Indians who had taken up residence in Burma were there legally, subject to conditions attaching to particular groups.
It is therefore difficult to see how Indian migration into Burma at the time could be classed as "illegal" when it was indeed promoted by the British authorities of both India and Burma.
It is also worth recalling that many Muslims were taken from Bengal as slaves into Arakan in the 17th century. These slaves were in no sense a consequence of any British action. The Sayadaw would know who was responsible.
In contrast to their colonies in Africa, the British in Burma did not own vast landed estates. Bengalis were attracted to work in Arakan by mainly local landowners, who either owned lands privately, or as "grantees" or zemindars from the government. Rakhine landowners welcomed Bengalis because they were industrious and thrifty, did not drink alcohol, did not gamble and invariably paid their fees and dues promptly. As time went by, however, Bengali workers began to settle in Arakan, buying land from local Rakhine and grantees, although there had initially been no shortage of land for acquisition and cultivation.
[The 'Arakan News' of 27 October 1877 had a rumbustious article about supposed Chittagonian exploitation of Rakhine residents: "Yes; Akyab is a prey to the Chittagonians, who look upon it as the vulture on its victim, and scrape it to the bone". We might ask who is to protect the "lazy Arakanese" from these depredations.]
That mercurial 'enfant terrible' Maung Zar Ni has seemingly launched a verbal assault on the Sayadaw in most immoderate language. In my own case I was recently described by Zar Ni as "senile, racist, ill-informed and intellectually incompetent", but I think I may have been let off lightly by comparison with others who have been the object of his ire. I gather I may also have incurred his disapproval because I am suspected, single-handed, of training Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodian jungle warfare. I would not myself have thought that the Khmer Rouge would have needed any military training from me.
Some have questioned whether Zar Ni has a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. Attached is his doctoral thesis. I leave it to readers to judge its academic merits.
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High stakes in Myanmar's peace process
Murray Hiebert and Phuong Nguyen: Asia Sentinel - 22 August 2014
A perceptive and succinct analyis of the ethnic peace process and how the West can assist, this article merits careful reading. The authors conclude:
"In the near to immediate term, it is important that Washington maintains and seeks to expand diplomatic support and assistance programs designed to help foster trust between Myanmar’s ethnic groups and the government, and empower civil society groups to fully participate in the country’s peace-building initiatives and future political dialogue. Myanmar ethnic leaders have said they would like to have U.S. observers, along with representatives from ASEAN, China, Japan, India, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations, present at the signing of the nationwide cease-fire accord, a call Washington should consider, assuming the government agrees to this grouping.
"Even if the nationwide cease-fire agreement can be reached before the end of the year, the next major challenge will be getting the political dialogue launched and allowing it to take root before President Thein Sein’s current term expires in early 2016. The road to achieving a lasting political solution to Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts will be long and difficult, and it is important that the United States and other countries that are serious about supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition channel as much attention and as many resources as possible to help ensure the peace process stays on track."
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Myanmar welcomes foreign teacher trainers
Thomson-Reuters Foundation - 20 August 2014
Leading international development charityVoluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is sending volunteer teacher trainers to Myanmar throughout August and September, marking a historic moment between Myanmar and the UK.
The initiative is being undertaken in partnership with the British Council, as part of a British Council-DFID funded project, to help improve the quality of education in the country. The programme will be officially opened by The British Ambassador to Myanmar and Jim Emerson, CEO of VSO International, on the 25th August.
This is the first time foreigners have been permitted to work in the education colleges and the first time teacher educators will receive in-depth training. This involves two years of in-service teaching training for the teacher educators in the education colleges. The first year focuses on English language teaching and the second on methodology.
1,300 local teacher trainers will be taught by 44 expert English language teachers, who will be placed in the country’s Education Colleges and universities of Education. There will be VSO teacher trainers in almost every college in the country.
Findings of the Census Observation Mission
UNFPA - 14 August 2014
The Mission described the Myanmar Census as successful on the whole and in line with international standards, except in Rakhine, where almost all communities that wanted to self-identify as “Rohingya” (who the Government call Bengali) were not counted. At the time of the observation, it was noted that some parts of Kachin State, controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation were not enumerated.
The International Technical Advisory Board (ITAB), a group of 15 experts from different countries and institutions involved in censuses and statistics internationally, will work with the Department of Population (DoP) to find ways of credibly estimating the population of the areas that were left out of the enumeration.
An independent evaluation of the census process itself has been planned.
The Observers highlighted the need to find a solution to the failure of enumeration in the northern area of Rakhine.
The full Census Observation Mission Report includes the following statement on Page 93:
"In the Rohingya/Bengali areas, the observers declared the census process a complete failure. It appeared to them that the local Rohingya/Bengali populations very much wanted to participate in the census but were prevented from doing so by the census field staff and the Department of Population officials. The observers concluded that any claims of a Rohingya/Bengali respondent refusing to take part should be refuted, at least in the areas they observed. In technical terms, a ‘refusal’ occurs when a respondent or groups of respondents do not want to participate in the census, which was never witnessed by the observers."
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The R-word and its ramifications
Democratic Voice of Burma - 17 August 2014
Derek Tonkin examines the strategic error made by those who claim 'Rohingya' ethnicity in seeking to meet the requirements of the much criticised 1982 Citizenship Act by denying, in many cases, their recent Bengali origins. They have sought to prove their direct ancestry in Arakan dating back well before the British arrival in 1824, but in a situation where the historical evidence of the migration of most Arakan Muslims from Bengal into Burma after 1870 is overhwelming and the facts beyond any reasonable doubt.
Under the Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941, all Indians of whatever religion resident in Burma at the time were permitted to remain in the country indefinitely and either immediately or at a later date acquire 'domicile'. The Japanese invasion of Burma in December 1941 made the formal implementation of the Agreement impossible.
We are in favour of changing Article 436 say Review Committee Members
Democratic Voice of Burma - 15 August 2015
Burma’s parliamentary Joint Committee to Review the Constitution (JCRC) has finalised its notes and recommendations on constitutional reform, according to three of the 31 committee members. Aye Maung, an upper house MP and appointed JCRC member, told Democratic Voice of Burma on Thursday that all members had examined the 15 chapters of the 2008 Constitution, with amendments suggested for more than 450 of the 457 articles.
“We have suggested amendments to more than 450 articles in the Constitution,” he said. “The suggestions are accompanied by notes from each member of the committee detailing their individual stance on every article.” He confirmed that Article 436 - the focus of an intensive campaign by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group - was among those clauses included by committee members with recommendations for change."
Derek Tonkin writes: It is far from clear how definitive the Committee's recommendations are likely to be. The report of the preliminary Committee turned out to be no more than a collated assemblage of proposals received.