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News & Articles on Burma - 21 February 2013 PDF Print E-mail

News & Articles on Burma
21 February 2013
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Fresh attack "does not augurs well for peace": Shan army
Burma: Investors beware?
Burma reaches a 5-point joint-statement on peace with United Nationalities Federal Council
Billion-dollar Military Budget Irks MPS
Myanmar drops defense budget by 5%
Rebels, Army Meet to Stem Violence in Northern Shan State
Myanmar, US agree to resume cooperation in fighting narcotics
ICT Ecosystem to be Implemented, Says Minister
FDI Could Worsen Burma's Ethnic Strife, Forest Loss: Report
Burma's Media Scene is Booming
In Burma's Kachin state, answers to conflict remain elusive
Myanmar's developmental Catch-22
No easy answers to Myanmar's ethnic conflict
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Fresh attack "does not augurs well for peace": Shan army
Thursday, 21 February 2013 15:12 S.H.A.N.

Following a new operation launched by the Burma Army to remove Shan State Army (SSA) bases in northern Shan State on Tuesday, 18 February, the SSA has charged the Burma Army as “doublecrossing”.

“The Burmese military is doublecrossing the peace process,” said Shan State Progress Party / Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) spokesman Maj Sai La. “Calm has just returned to the Kachin State. It is starting all over again with us. This doesn’t augurs well for peace.”


Columns of Burma Army troops from Infantry Battalion # 33 and Light Infantry Battalion # 322 had launched attacks against the SSA's 192nd Battalion in Mongkao and Loilan, both localities in Tangyan township, Lashio district. Locals could hear explosions from miles around, said a Shan source from the border.

Earlier, the Burma Army had informed the SSA that its units from Mong Nawng-based Military Operations Command (MOC) # 2 in Kehsi and Monghsu townships were being replaced by units from Mongpan-based MOC # 17. So far, there are no reports of Burma Army troops from MOC # 2 and MOC # 17 involved in the fighting.

The SSPP/SSA signed a ceasefire agreement on 28 January 2012. Since then, it has reportedly fought more than 50 clashes against Burma Army columns "trespassing" areas under its control.

Officers from both the SSPP/SSA and its sister organization Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) had given SHAN the following likely reasons for the latest fighting:

  • To cut off all connections between the SSPP/SSA on the west bank of the Salween with the United Wa State Party / United Wa State Party (UWSP/UWSA) on the east bank
  • The Burma Army's standing policy to control every square inch of the union territory by regional clearance and regional control operations
  • Its latest order that came out last year not to allow any armed rebel group to establish bases outside its main base
  • To start preparations for the long planned offensive against the UWSA


The UWSA, reputed as the biggest drug organization, is surrounded by the Burma Army in the north, west and southwest. In the east is China and in the southwest is Mongla at the strategic triangle area where Burma meets China and Laos.    http://www.english.panglong.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5266:fresh-attack-does-not-augurs-well-for-peace-shan-army&catid=86:war&Itemid=284
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Burma: Investors beware?
February 21 | 2013, Author: *Henry Zwartz and Saw Wei Thoo

Logistic road being built for new Kawkareik-Myawaddy road (Photo-KIC)

Despite the lifting of sanctions, experts predict that Burmas long-term economic outlook is full of risks for potential investors, as military-linked companies continue to hold sway over the economy.

It is boom time for Burma. The impoverished but resource rich country, once isolated under a military dictatorship, has seen a series of political reforms under its President U Thien Sien that have led to the lifting of international sanctions and $5.9 billion in foreign debt written-off a move designed to allow large amounts of new government lending.

But, economists warn that there are signs that Burma's economic revival could be threatened by unresolved ethnic tensions, endemic government corruption and a bitter civil war in Kachin State.

"Bright spot" or economic blackhole?

Burma's economy is a "bright spot" in Asia, according to the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific Economic Update released in December 2012, with accelerating GDP growth of 5.5 percent in 2011-2012, with 6.3 percent predicted for 2012-2013. Tourism is also picking up, with over 800,000 visitors arriving in Burma in 2011, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, up 3% from 2010.

Regional analysts have been quick to praise the reforms taking place in Burma, but as Sydney based Professor Sean Turnell explained, fundamental issues that have yet to be addressed by President Thein Sein still put long-term economic stability at risk. “The narrative of reform starts to unravel when you begin to seriously look at what Burma’s government has done so far. Import licensing, producing crops and restrictions on banks are still more or less in place,” Turnell, a professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia, added, “The conception of the country’s economy is seen as the same as the conception of the military…. it’s a bloated apparatus.”

Turnell, who has authored book on Burma’s financial and monetary system – Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma – said that Burma’s government must combat endemic corruption by opening up vast swathes of the country’s economy to private ownership.

“Corruption has flourished because the State is so interventionist. Everything needs government approval, it’s a breeding ground for corruption.”

International financial institutions, such as the World Bank, may laud Burma’s economic growth, but as Turnell warns figures can be misleading, “despite the rhetoric there is not much longer term investment yet at all. It’s just been quick returns, like tourism and resources, but not longer-term infrastructure. It’s essentially still a subsistence level economy.” The World Bank’s report noted similar concerns for Burma’s economic trajectory, “there are risks to the macroeconomic program that could emanate from events on the political front,” and with an ongoing conflict in Kachin State, and the displacement of the Muslim ethnic minority Rohingya, the risks for investors are considerable.

The dominant concerns for investors, according to the World Bank, were, “the emergence of alliances of vested interests seeking to disrupt the reform process and the prospect of escalation in internal strife in some of the border areas and resumption of conflict where ceasefire agreements have been signed.”

The Paris Club

Meanwhile, human rights advocates have criticised the decision by the ‘Paris Club’ of creditor countries decision to give Burma an amnesty on nearly $6 billion in state debt, saying that international community should exert more pressure on Burma over it’s military offensive in Kachin State. The Paris Club includes affluent democracies Japan and Norway.

Since December the Burma has employed helicopter gunships, jets and heavy artillery bombardment, leading to civilian deaths.

Anna Roberts, Executive Director at Burma Campaign UK, was critical of the controversial decision, “it is incredible that Burma gets billions of dollars of debt relief when its biggest spending is on the military, an army that is committing crimes against humanity in its war against ethnic minorities.”

"Chronic State Failure"

Human Rights Watch also condemned Burma’s current human rights situation in its World Report 2013. “Burma’s reforms over the past year are hindered, not helped, by international oversell and hasty praise in the face of continued serious human rights abuses,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Burma is still failing basic rights tests on its remaining political prisoners, blocked humanitarian aid, and ensuring accountability for war crimes,” he added.

Yet in spite of international outrage, powerful foreign governments – including as the UK and the U.S. – have continued to ease sanctions and open up the Burma’s economy to more overseas investment.

“The US, UK, and other influential governments should hold Burma to the human rights commitments it made during last year’s well-publicized international visits,” Robertson said. “Foreign governments should recognize that Burma’s history shows that a tough response to rights abuses doesn’t derail reform, but promotes it.”

*Saw Wei Thoo is a Karen News Journalist and Henry Zwartz is a Karen News intern.
http://karennews.org/2013/02/burma-investors-beware.html/
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Burma reaches a 5-point joint-statement on peace with United Nationalities Federal Council
By Zin Linn Feb 21, 2013 11:58PM UTC

An 11-member Union Peace Working Committee delegation led by its Vice-Chairman U Aung Min held talks with a 12-member delegation of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) including Nai Hong Sar and Dr La Ja in Chiang Mai of Thailand from 9 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, The New Light of Myanmar said today.

Both sides released a five-point joint-statement dated 20 February, 2013. According to the statement, the eleven-member Union Peace Working Committee delegation, led by its Vice-Chairman U Aung Min together with Union Ministers U Khin Yi, U Ohn Myint, and Deputy Attorney-General U Tun Tun Oo held talks United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) twelve-member political negotiation team led by Nai Hong Sar and Dr La Ja to discuss the Framework for Political Dialogue from 9.00 to 17.00 hrs on February 20, 2013 in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

During the meeting, the two delegations discussed a variety of issues in an open and friendly manner. As mentioned in the joint-statement, the two sides talked about political objectives; framework for political dialogue; timeframe for political dialogue; drafting agenda for political dialogue; venue for future political dialogue; presence and role of mediators, monitors, and observers in the meetings; six-point ethnic nationalities peace plan; and other miscellaneous issues.
Participants of first proper conference held by‘Union Peace Working Committee’ and ‘United Nationalities Federal Council’ on 20 February 2013 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Photo: Hla Maung Shwe)
The joint-statement also says that the two delegations discussed mechanisms to secure local and international support for humanitarian assistance, education, health, agricultural and livestock sectors during the preparatory period and political dialogue for areas where member organizations of the UNFC are located.

The two sides also talked about holding meetings between respective executive committees or technical teams. They also agreed to hold a follow-up meeting within two months.

Some more additional news informed by the Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.) were as follow.  There was a half-hour hindrance due to Union Peace Working Committees reluctance to cover the comprehensive topics of the discussions in the joint-statement. But, the government delegation took a softer line afterward and agreed to put detailed subject matters.

The UNFC offered Equality, Right of Self Determination and Peace as their political objectives in the meeting.

The UNFC also proposed to pick a foreign country as next host, possibly Japan. The government side counter proposed the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Rangoon. After finding the middle ground, the settled venue is Thailand.

After a three-day ethnic conference in September last year, the 6-point agreement was reached at the Ethnic Nationalities Conference held in Chiangmai. The 6 points in the agreement were to host a meeting with civil society and all ethnic armed groups; a meeting between all ethnic armed groups and government representatives monitored by the international community; referendums in each ethnic state to ratify agreements reached; a meeting with all ethnic people to talk about peace; tripartite dialogue between the government, democracy activists and ethnic people; and implementation of agreements reached within a set time-frame.

The meeting was supported by Nippon Foundation, chaired by Yohei Sasakawa, who was appointed Ambassador for the welfare of national races in Myanmar(Burma) in June 2012 by the outgoing Japanese government led by Yoshihiko Noda. On 19 February, the Shinzo Abe government made him Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar.

Looking back into last year, there was one remarkable meeting of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) held from May 8 to 9 2012, on the Thai-Burma border.  It was attended by the UNFC central executive committee members and top leaders of the member organizations. At this meeting, serious discussion was held on Burma Armys military offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), as the main target. The UNFC issued a statement with an ultimatum to Burma Army to stop military offensives in Kachin State by June 10, 2012 during the meeting.

The statement said, "if the Burma Army (Government armed forces) does not stop its transgression and military offensives in Kachin State by June 10, 2012, UNFC members, who have agreed ceasefire with U Thein Sein government, have decided to review the peace process and future programs, including the preliminary ceasefire agreements reached."

The members of the UNFC are DeKachin Independence Organization (KIO), Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party ( KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Shan State Progress Party  (SSPP), Pa-ao National Liberation Organization (PNLO), Palaung State Liberation Front ( PSLF), Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu mocratic Union, Wa National Organization (WNO) and Kachin National Organization (KNO).

At the start of 2012, most members of UNFC agreed to a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government. The KNU, which fought against the Burmese government for six decades, also took the ceasefire in January, which publicizes the governments efforts of peace promise in the country.    
http://asiancorrespondent.com/98763/burma-reaches-a-5-point-joint-statement-on-peace-with-united-nationalities-federal-council/
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Billion-dollar Military Budget Irks MPS
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| February 21, 2013 |
Burmese armed forces soldiers on parade. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)Burmese armed forces soldiers on parade. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
RANGOON — Burmese opposition lawmakers have expressed dissatisfaction with a proposed budget that will give the country’s armed forces more than US $1 billion in funding in the coming fiscal year, and have criticized the lack of transparency in military spending.

Earlier this week, a draft budget was submitted to Parliament that will again make the military by far the largest recipient of public funds, granting it more than one-fifth of the total budget—slightly lower than the amount it was awarded last year.

Some MPs said that defense spending—long the top priority of the successive military regimes that ruled Burma for five decades—continues to impose an enormous burden on the country, preventing it from tackling other issues such as poverty.

“They say they want 1.067 trillion kyat [$1.15 billion] for the armed forces. That’s a huge amount, especially compared to what’s being spent on health care and education. And nobody knows how they [the armed forces] are spending that money,” said Upper House MP Pe Than, from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.

“If this continues, our people and our country will never escape from poverty. They need to stop spending so much on the military,” he added.

According to Pe Than, the proposed budget allocates just 4.4 percent of government funds to education and 3.9 percent to health care. The junta that handed over power to the current quasi-civilian government in 2011 spent significantly less than this on public welfare, while routinely awarding itself 40 to 60 percent of the national budget.

Lower House MP Daw Dwebu, from the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State, said she called on the Defense Ministry to provide details of how it plans to use the money it says it needs. “They say they want to have a modern Tatmadaw [armed forces], but they should say what they mean by this.”

Nai Banyar Aung Moe, a Lower House MP from the All Mon Regions Democracy Party, said that the demand for excessive defense spending shows that Burma is still far from free of the legacy of half a century of military rule.

“The army was in total control for a long time, and it may take many more years before we can end its influence in politics,” he said. “In the meantime, the military still wants to dominate.”

If the army needs more money, he said, it should use it to support rank-and-file soldiers and their families, so they will be able to improve their livelihoods without exploiting civilians, especially in ethnic areas.

One Upper House MP who asked not to be identified also expressed dissatisfaction with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue of military spending.

Suu Kyi, who is the daughter of Gen Aung San, the founder of Burma’s armed forces, recently said that she is still “fond” of the country’s military, despite its often brutal mistreatment of ethnic minorities and suppression of democratic forces.

Under Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution, armed forces appointees occupy 25 percent of seats in Parliament.  http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/27378
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Myanmar drops defense budget by 5%
Thursday, 21 February 2013 16:33 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

The Myanmar government has announced a five percent drop in military spending, yet it still remains at more than 20 percent of the country's budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Burmese army parade on Armed Forces Day at the new capital of Naypyitaw on March 27, 2007. Photo : Nic Dunlop/Panos PicturesDemocratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported on February 19 that there had been several days of heated debates in the Parliament over the latest budget figures.

Speaking with DVB, Pe Than, representing the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) in Myebon township said that “The defense budget is 20.86 percent – the highest percentage – of the national expenditure, and the MPs didn’t discuss much about it. The government did not provide much detail for the allocation.” He added that MPs questioned the ministry’s lack of accountability.

“We were never going to see radical change under a top-down transition process – so incremental cuts on an annual basis is pretty much in line with expectations,” said Professor Ian Holliday, the author of “Burma Redux: Global Justice and the Quest for Political Reform in Myanmar”, to Mizzima.

The Special Funds Law is still in place, which allows unlimited funding to the military without parliamentary consent.

The Ministry of Finance and Revenue announced toward the end of last month that the budget deficit had fallen to 3.2 percent for 2012-13. This is a drop from 4.9 percent in the previous fiscal year.  http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8945-myanmar-drops-defense-budget-by-5.html
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Rebels, Army Meet to Stem Violence in Northern Shan State
By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| February 21, 2013 |
Burmese army soldiers stand around 28 SSA-N rebel recruits who were captured in northern Shan State in October 2012, in this photo that was posted on Facebook by the military’s propaganda unit Myawaddy.Burmese army soldiers stand around 28 SSA-N rebel recruits who were captured in northern Shan State in October 2012, in this photo that was posted on Facebook by the military’s propaganda unit Myawaddy.
The Shan State Army North (SSA-N) and the Burmese military fought escalating skirmishes in northern Shan State in the past few days, but a Shan rebel spokesman said an emergency meeting between regional rebel and government commanders had stemmed the violence.

SSA-N peace working committee member Major Naw Lae and the groups Lashio liaison office coordinator met with Northeastern Regional Military Commander General Aung Soe in the town of Lashio to discuss the recent skirmishes, said SSA-N Maj Sai La.

“The attacks here stopped today,” Sai Lai said by telephone from an ethnic rebel hilltop post called Loila on Thursday. “The commander general [Aung Soe] promised to hold the fighting,” he added.

The SSA-N reached a ceasefire with the government in January 2012, but sporadic skirmishes between rebel fighters and government soldiers have continued, mostly near the Mandalay-Muse road in Namtu, Hseni and Mongmao townships. Between January and August 2012, rebels reported at least 30 incidents, which they say had risen to a total of about 100 by February.

On Tuesday and Wednesday clashes escalated after government troops “suddenly” attacked the SSA-N Battalion 192 base at Loila and even launched artillery attacks on the hilltop, Sai La alleged.

“Their troops are still deployed at the base of Loilan hill post, where our troops are stationed,” he said. “So we are ready in case another round of attacks comes.” He claimed that the government’s Light Infantry Battalion 322 from Lao Kai base and Infantry Battalion 33 from Tangyan base were involved in the operations.

The SSA-N spokesman said it was unclear why the government troops attacked Loilan hilltop. He added however, that the operations had coincided with the SSA-N unit 192’s attempt to relocate their families on farms in a new village near Loilan.

The SSA-N has no more direct ceasefire meetings planned with the government, but the group is a member of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of 11 ethnic armed groups that met with government peace negotiators in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Wednesday.

The SSA-N spokesman Sai La said however, that on the ground in northern Shan State the situation remained volatile. “If attack continues, we are far away from the genuine peace,” he said. http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/27384
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Myanmar, US agree to resume cooperation in fighting narcotics
By Associated Press,

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar and the United States took another step toward closer relations with an agreement Thursday to resume cooperation in fighting narcotics after nearly nine years.

State television said the two sides agreed to restart joint opium poppy yield surveys early this year and cooperate in counter-narcotics training.

The videos are likely produced by a small contingent of pro-Pyongyang sympathizers in South Korea.

U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell told reporters after a signing ceremony in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the agreement “is another step forward in our overall relationship. We’re very pleased with that.”

Police Col. Myint Thein said the survey would provide better information about poppy cultivation and production. “I am confident that it will help our counter-narcotic efforts,” he said.

Myanmar is the world’s second-largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, accounting for about 25 percent of global poppy production, according to the United Nations.

The last joint opium yield survey was conducted in 2004. U.S. aid for Myanmar's anti-drug efforts has been limited since the military took power in 1988, with most U.S. assistance to the government cut off.

However, relations between Myanmar and the U.S. have improved dramatically since retired Gen. Thein Sein took office as president in March 2011 and instituted a range of political and economic reforms.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/myanmar-us-agree-to-resume-cooperation-in-fighting-narcotics/2013/02/21/a766f0ba-7c45-11e2-9073-e9dda4ac6a66_story.html
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ICT Ecosystem to be Implemented, Says Minister
By THA LUN ZAUNG HTET/ THE IRRAWADDY| February 21, 2013 |

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) will upgrade mobile communications to 3G and above and also implement a digital-based administrative and economic system, according to Deputy Minister Win Than.

In a session of the Union Parliament on Tuesday, Win Than told lawmakers that the MCIT has two new plans for 2013-14 fiscal year: to improve mobile communications, and to implement an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ecosystem.

“The ministry will improve mobile communications to meet international standards of 3G and above and implement the ICT Ecosystem such as e-Government, e-Visa, e-Procurement, e-License, e-Payment, Online Billing System, and so on,” he explained.

However, his statement attracted criticism from a number of observers who said the MCIT’s plans would be hampered by poor ICT infrastructure and slow Internet speeds.

Ye Myat Thu, an executive committee member of the Myanmar Computer Federation, said the government will have difficulty putting its policies into practice because it still uses outdated equipment to build ICT infrastructure.

“If you want a car with the quality of a Land Cruiser, you just buy it. You don’t even need know how to make it. But if you don’t buy a Land Cruiser and buy a tractor instead, then you will only get the quality of the latter. That’s what it is like in the MCIT,” said Ye Myat Thu.

He added that introducing a mobile communications system of 3G and above across the country would also be very expensive.

“Investment for 3G and above is a lot, and I think it can only apply in urban areas,” he said.

In addition to physical infrastructure, Burma also needs to introduce new legislation to improve access to modern technologies, said Ye Myat Thu.

“To establish e-Government or e-Commerce, there must be a good cyber law,” he said. “I don’t think the existing law is good enough if you want to establish an online-based system. For that, you need to build legal and technical infrastructure, and they have to be strong.”

The MCIT is currently implementing a project to make 30 million more mobile phone lines available across the country within five years.   http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/27391
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FDI Could Worsen Burma's Ethnic Strife, Forest Loss: Report
By PAUL VRIEZE and SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| February 21, 2013 |
Photo of Hpakant before and after the ceasfire between the KIO and Burma’s military. (Photo: KDNG)Photo of Hpakant valley, Kachin State, before and after the ceasefire between the Kachin rebels and Burma’s military. (Photo: KDNG)
The rise in foreign investment in Burma’s resource-rich border regions risks exacerbating ethnic conflict and environmental destruction, according to a new report, which warns that investment in the areas should be well-planned and benefit ethnic communities.

The report “Developing Disparity: regional investment in Burma’s borderlands,” by the Transnational Institute and the Burma Centre Netherlands, said Burma’s reforms are helping to rapidly integrate it with the burgeoning regional economy and the country’s ethnic areas are likely targets for foreign businesses.

“Foreign investment in these resource-rich yet conflict-ridden ethnic borderlands is likely to be as important as domestic politics in shaping Burma’s future. Such investment is not conflict-neutral and has in some cases fuelled local grievances and stimulated ethnic conflict,” said the report, which was released on Thursday.

Burma’s official foreign direct investment (FDI) figures, although unreliable and incomplete, indicate a sharp rise in FDI, jumping from US $330 million in 2009/10 to $20 billion in 2010/11 and $4.6 billion in 2011/12, according to the report. China and Thailand are the largest investors followed by South Korea and Hong Kong, researchers said, adding that Japan is also becoming a major investor.

This growing regional investment could lead to economic growth and improved living standards for the majority Burmese and ethnic minorities, the report said. It warned however, that “the country has yet to develop the institutional and governance capacity to manage the expected windfall,” adding that “foreign-funded mega projects have not, to date, benefited local communities.”

The report said investors from Thailand and China have a long history of exploiting Burma’s border regions, in such a way that “natural resources are being extracted at low costs and large profits for Chinese and Thai companies and authorities, with very little reinvested into the area.”

The long-time Burma researchers draw on dozens of documented cases of local and foreign investment in ethnic areas in recent years, to show that the projects often lead to environmental degradation, resource-grabbing, militarization of investment areas and tensions with ethnic communities that lose resources to outside investors.

“[T]here need to be new types of investment and processes of implementation. The government should direct investment towards people-centered development that benefits household economies,” researchers said.

President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut was contacted over the reports’ conclusions but he was not immediately available for comment.

TNI and the Burma Centre Netherlands said there needs to be genuine political dialogue between the central government and armed ethnic groups over how the border regions’ rich resources—such as mineral wealth, timber and hydropower potential—could be exploited in an equitable way, with input from local communities.

Although most ethnic militias currently have ceasefires with the government, the report warns that this situation offers no guarantees that the sides would come to agreements on investment projects in the border regions.

Researchers said the 17-year-long ceasefire in Kachin State had given rise to massive timber logging, an increase in resource-grabbing by locals and outsiders and differences between Kachin rebels and the government over Chinese-backed hydropower dams.

The latter disagreements reignited the Kachin conflict in June 2011, which has since escalated and displaced about 100,000 civilians in northern Burma.

“These experiences provide important lessons about the relationship between the changing dynamics of conflict and the role of foreign business interests that are relevant for the current ceasefire process,” the report said.

In Karen State, ethnic rebel groups and Karen civil society organizations have long expressed concerns over resource grabbing by Burmese firms that ride roughshod over the rights and interests of local Karen communities.

“Some Burmese companies cleverly seized the land belonging to villagers. They forced land owners to accept cheap land prices,” said Saw Htoo Klei, the secretary of the Karen Office of Relief and Development, an NGO that assists villagers in Karen rebel-held areas.

He said that same concerns apply for future foreign investment in Karen State, which is likely to become an important “economic corridor” due to its location between central Burma and northern Thailand.

“We are worried about land confiscation as it has often happened in the past,” Htoo Klei said. “Most Karen villagers are farmers and work in agriculture. So it is hard for them if they lose their land.”http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/27397
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Burma's Media Scene is Booming
By MYINT THIN / THE IRRAWADDY| February 21, 2013 |

Media development is a serious business in Burma. After the government in Naypyidaw decided to open up the country, it picked media as a top priority. For the past 15 months, media development has been the most exciting area which is being closely watched by the international community.

Literally every international media assistance program has now established a presences inside Burma, offering training and workshops and drafting various media development plans. UNESCO has spearheaded efforts to promote press freedom inside Burma using its vast experience from other developing countries. For the first time, the country will celebrate World Press Freedom Day on May 3 to herald new media freedom inside the country.

Within the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the pattern of media development in Burma has been unprecedented. The country now enjoys freer media, as the Registration of Printers and Publishers Law of 1962 has been abolished. Soon, licenses for private daily newspaper will be granted. Exiled media have returned home and set up shop locally. A media law is now being drafted by journalists in consultation with the government. There will also be a national press council. Other measures are in the offing to institutionalize democratic media development so that it will serve a larger public.
U Myint Thin is a Burmese pseudonym for a veteran Thai journalist residing in Rangoon. His regular column, Across Irrawaddy, appears every Wednesday.
Myint Thin is a Burmese pseudonym for a veteran Thai journalist residing in Rangoon. His regular column, Across Irrawaddy, appears every Wednesday.

Indeed, the government now envisages that only two forms of media will emerge: public service media and private media. Recently, the Ministry of Information presented a comprehensive plan to transform all state-owned media into public service media.

It might sound a bit ironic as the country was under tight military control with total censorship for nearly half a century. But now it is a fact of life, and it is happening for good reasons. Burma knows that political reform, especially when it comes to the media, will attract international attention and sympathy. Instead of delaying or shying away, it has decided to take the bull by the horns and open up the media arena, with some good results. After decades of strong condemnations, Burma has finally received some good press coverage commending its latest reform efforts. The war with minorities, especially the Kachin, as well as the plight of the Rohingya have also received global media attention. Its all part of openness.

Two important areas of media reform to watch will be the transformation of Myanmar Radio and Television as well as the future of new media. The BBC has been helping more than a thousand MRTV staffers to change their deeply imbedded mindsets and accept a modern world of news management and reporting. Within this year, MRTV will come up with a new style of presentation and content. Staffers have been trained to report, write and edit in professional ways. They are also told to think independently and not to wait for the governments press releases.

Given its young population, with people between the ages of 15 and 59 making up 60 percent of the country's estimated population of 60 million, Burma's new media scene will be fast moving. New styles and varieties of news and data contents are emerging. Just the beginning of last year, smart phones were a rarity as the price was still extremely high. Right now, however, they have become the most popular personal item to own among local people. As such, Internet and mobile phones will harness the young users. The government in Naypyidaw also wants to engage the estimated three million-strong diaspora of Burmese living and working overseas. They are good sources of foreign exchange and know-how. At the moment, there are already news services for mobile phones through SMS systems.

The government also has a plan to transform a semi state-owned translation organization, known as Sarpay Beikman, which publishes and translates literary works, into a public service organization. It is a tall order. The organization needs capacity building and language ability to select and translate high-quality books and publications. It will be also tasked with the drafting of a public service publishing law in the near future.
http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/27374
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In Burma's Kachin state, answers to conflict remain elusive
By AP News Feb 21, 2013 4:38PM UTC

LAWA YANG, Burma (AP) — Kneeling beside a line of freshly dug trenches carved like one long, open wound into a lush hillside, the rebel sergeant peered through dusty binoculars at all his troops had lost.

Scattered across the sprawling valley below, a dozen thatched-roof homes stood quiet, abandoned by fleeing villagers as government forces drew near. Towering above: four forested mountain ridges seized by Burma’s army after some of the bloodiest clashes here in decades — so fierce the ethnic Kachin guerrillas who survived said the artillery fire came down like rain.
Kachin Independence Army soldiers guard a post on a hilltop overlooking the town of Laiza. Pic: AP.
If the Kachin Independence Army, the last armed insurgent group still at war in Burma, loses just one more mountain ridge, there will be little to stop government forces from taking their stronghold on the Chinese border. They are ill-equipped — some rebels wear helmets made only of hardened plastic and admit running low on ammunition — but they remain defiant.

“We’re very vulnerable because the army now holds the high ground,” rebel Sgt. Brang Shawng said as he scanned the new front line at Lawa Yang, where his unit retreated last month.

But he added: “We will never give up. For us, this is a fight for self-determination, and I’ll keep fighting for it until I die.”

Government soldiers, bolstered for the first time by screeching fighter jets and helicopter gunships that pounded the hills for weeks, advanced late last month to within just a few kilometers (miles) of the rebel headquarters town of Laiza, the closest they have ever come.

The region has been relatively calm since, but even so, the dramatic upsurge in fighting underscores how far Burma is from achieving one of the things it needs most — a political settlement to end not just the war with the Kachin, but decades-long conflicts with more than a dozen other rebel armies that have plagued the country for decades and still threaten its future.

Much is at stake for this Southeast Asian nation, which has stunned the world by opening politically and economically over the last two years following five decades of military rule. President Thein Sein’s government rose to power in 2011 following elections that rights groups said were neither free nor fair, but it has since ushered in reforms, freed political prisoners and allowed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters to be elected to parliament.

Still, Burma has yet to resolve a multitude of conflicts with its ethnic minorities, which make up about 40 percent of the population. Their persistent push for political autonomy has turned vast patchworks of territory along the borders with China and Thailand into rebel fiefdoms rich in jade, timber, gold and opium.

In Kachin state alone, the control of which is split between rebels and the government, resource-hungry China has invested billions of dollars in hydroelectric dams. A Chinese-backed pipeline project is due to begin pumping oil and gas from the Bay of Bengal in May, and more development projects are planned, including highways and railways that would link Indian Ocean seaports with the rest of Southeast Asia. Most of them cross rebel zones.

Thein Sein’s administration has signed truce deals with 18 armed groups — everyone except the Kachin, according to Min Zaw Oo, who heads cease-fire negotiations at the Burma Peace Center, a government-appointed body that is coordinating peace talks.

Most of those truces had already been negotiated with the former junta, but the nation’s former military rulers “never accepted the need for a political settlement,” Min Zaw Oo said.

Thein Sein’s administration, by contrast, realizes a cease-fire alone is not sufficient, he said. “This government sees dialogue as key. It is ready to talk. That’s a major policy distinction.”

Min Zaw Oo said he believes Burma has the best chance in 60 years of ending the country’s ethnic conflicts. But he acknowledged that “practically, there are a lot of obstacles in the way.”

Distrust runs deep, and even the truces remain fragile. The army and rebels in eastern Shan state, for example, have clashed at least 44 times since agreeing a cease-fire last year, Min Zaw Oo said.

In Kachin state, there has been speculation the government was trying to strengthen its hand at negotiations by escalating the war to new heights with airstrikes. But rebel Col. Zaw Taung, director of strategic analysis for the Kachin Independence Army, said the skirmishes only pushed the two sides further apart.

“They say they want peace, but they just threw everything they have against us,” he said. “With one hand they’re trying to burn us, with the other, they’re trying douse us with water. They cannot be trusted.”

The army, like the rebels, insists it fought only in self-defense.

On Wednesday, government envoys resumed talks in the Thai city of Chiang Mai with the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of 11 ethnic militias, including the Kachin, that banded together last year. Few expected any breakthroughs, and no cease-fire was reached with the Kachin, which have met the government more than a dozen times since war in the north reignited in 2011.

The talks are “only about the framework of future discussions,” said Hkun Okker, a senior alliance member. “We’re demanding a political dialogue, and the government agrees, but real dialogue hasn’t started.”

Last week, Thein Sein acknowledged that his country’s history of ethnic conflict has been a major barrier to progress, and that achieving stability is crucial as it pursues a democratic future.

His words, though, were delivered on an occasion infused with bitter irony: Union Day, which commemorates the 1947 deal between Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, and ethnic leaders to break away from Britain’s colonial arms together.

The so-called Panglong agreement also granted ethnic minorities autonomy, but it fell apart after the assassination of Aung San.

The Kachin, who are predominantly Christian in a majority Buddhist country, first took up arms in 1961. A 1994 truce with the army lasted 17 years, but during that time, rebel demands for rights and a federalist system were never addressed.

Instead, the junta in 2008 forced through a new constitution. The nation’s minorities say it places enormous power in the hands of the central government and the military, which rights groups say has orchestrated a campaign of discrimination, forced labor and abuse against the Kachin and other groups for decades. The constitution can be amended only with approval of the armed forces, which even now control 25 percent of parliament.

Tensions rose further in 2009, when the junta tried to persuade ethnic armies to join a new border guard force. Most, including the Kachin, refused.

Two months after Thein Sein took office in 2011, the Kachin truce finally broke down when the army bolstered its presence near a hydropower plant in Dapein that is a joint venture with a Chinese company, and rebels refused to abandon a strategic base nearby.

Since then, more than 100,000 Kachin civilians have been displaced, and the rebels have progressively lost territory, pressed closer and closer against the Chinese border.

Only one major mountain ridge now separates Laiza from Burma’s army, and a grim mood has settled over the town.

At the main cemetery, workers are erecting concrete tombstones for rebels who died in the latest fighting. At least 23 are buried here under mounds of red dirt, though rebel officials declined to say how many were killed altogether.

Every night, a single-file candlelight peace vigil organized by a Catholic priest snakes through Laiza’s darkened and nearly deserted streets. Shops are closed. Displaced people crowd camps perched on a rocky river that marks the border with China.

The rebels, clearly outgunned, say they will not even try to retake lost ground. There is talk of the rebels abandoning Laiza if need be, of shifting their headquarters to a secret location if the army makes a push for the town. Most of their offices on a hillside overlooking town already appear empty, and the rebels’ most senior leadership is no longer here.

“For a guerrilla army, what matters most is not holding ground, but maintaining the support of the people,” Zaw Taung said, speaking at a Laiza hotel the rebels use as an office that is decorated with wall-to-wall maps.

Judging by comments from many Kachin, across many levels of society, they overwhelmingly support the rebels, whom they see as protectors and their legitimate government, perhaps now more than ever.

Asked why the rebels were the only armed group that has yet to sign a truce with the government, Zaw Taung was dismissive.

“We tried that for 17 years. What did it get us?” he asked. “The only thing that will end the war is a political solution. Without that, a truce means nothing. The fighting will go on.”   http://asiancorrespondent.com/98728/burma-myanmar-kachin-conflict/
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Myanmar's developmental Catch-22
Teresita Cruz-del Rosario
The Diplomat/McClatchy-Tribune February 21, 2013 1:00 am

What a difference a year makes.

A functioning ATM at Yangon International Airport; a reporter from Myanmar International Television on prime time; a brand new KIA showroom sparkling with chrome and glass; Italian gelato counters serving raspberry and lime sorbet alongside a sumptuous buffet of Burmese cuisine.

On Yangon's streets, hundreds of new Toyota Land Cruisers and Mitsubishi Pajeros have emerged as clear favourites - even an occasional Porsche sweeps past.

These material symbols of Myanmar's recent transformation indicate rapid progress, but also pose reasons for concern. Growth this year is projected at 6 per cent, keeping pace with some of Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbours, and possibly overtaking others.

While these are welcome changes, runaway economic development produces its own dilemmas: destruction of the environment, displacement of communities, erosion of cultural bonds as creeping consumerism replaces fellowship and camaraderie. Call it Myanmar's Catch 22.

Eleven months ago when I arrived in Yangon, it was a week before the elections and the city was abuzz with campaigning. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was hot on the campaign trail. Journalists arrived from every corner of the globe to cover Myanmar's long-overdue political resurrection. Eager citizens awaited the day of reckoning, hoping that this time, the disappointment of past elections would not come back to haunt them.

A year later, the process of political and economic liberalisation shows no signs of abating. If anything, the pace and quality of reforms that would hastily reverse Myanmar's long isolation has surprised the international community.

Jin-Yong Cai, executive vice-president and CEO of the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank's private sector arm, recently told the Wall Street Journal, "The political risk [in Myanmar] will go away. There is such goodwill from the political community."

After languishing in a state of underdevelopment for 50 years, Myanmar citizens have reclaimed their country. But now the real work begins.

Last November, President Thein Sein passed a new Investment Law, opening the door to foreign direct investment in what the Economist described as "the last frontier" for Western investors. The law allows foreign companies to lease land on a long-term basis without the involvement of a local partner. Tax incentives, infrastructure development and the creation of special economic zones are also covered in the law.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation has also proposed an aggressive agriculture development programme. Its five-pronged strategy calls for the opening of new agricultural land, providing sufficient irrigation water, supporting agricultural mechanisation, applying modern agro-technologies, and developing high-yielding crop varieties.

Meanwhile, by developing its oil and gas industries, alongside supporting infrastructure, Myanmar will be able to engage with many of its neighbours. Specifically, it stands to benefit from the enormous energy demands of China, India and Thailand.

Reuters reported last year that Myanmar's reforms will lead to an energy boom. Already, RH Petrogas of Singapore has signed a Seismic Option Agreement with Rimbunan Petrogas Limited in Myanmar. If all the planned pipelines materialise, Myanmar could eventually supply 20 per cent of China's oil and gas needs.

In response to environmentalists' fears that massive investments in Myanmar's extractive sector will wreak havoc on the country's precious natural resources, parliament passed the Environmental Conservation Law last March. Its declarations are bold, its stipulations formidable and sweeping. No company can do business in Myanmar without, at the very least, an Environmental Impact Assessment. Companies must obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, widely known as MOECAF.

But the devil is in the details. The law requires specific procedures that have not yet been translated into a set of globally compliant standards. Technical requirements such as establishing criteria to screen investment proposals and ensuring a timely approval process need to be addressed.

There is also the thorny issue of whether to allow projects to move forward in areas where they could potentially dislocate local ethnic communities. This also creates the need for dispute mechanisms that give voice to the communities affected by such projects. These practices were conspicuously absent during five decades of decision-making by military fiat.

In many ways, Myanmar is Asia's darling today. But this privileged position brings with it the burden of having to live up to standards, uphold ideals and make good on promises. The onset of economic and political reform has left many in a state of exuberance, yet the rush to modernity has a steep learning curve.

Myanmar stands on the brink of an exciting new era. Let's hope the country never looks back.

Teresita Cruz-del Rosario is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for Asian Legal Studies at the National University of Singapore.
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Myanmars-developmental-Catch-22-30200423.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Nationmultimediacom-Opinion+%28NationMultimedia.com+-+Opinion%29
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No easy answers to Myanmar's ethnic conflict
Added At:  2013-02-21 3:00 PM; Last Updated At: 2013-02-21 3:00 PM, AP

In this Jan. 31, 2013 photo, a Kachin Independence Army soldier stands on top of a bunker at an outpost on the Law Hpyu hilltop, one of the last hilltop outposts defending Laiza, where the guerrilla group's headquarters are located, in northern Myanmar's Kachin-controlled region. Kachin state is home to the last rebel insurgency left fighting in Myanmar that hasn't signed a cease-fire with President Thein Sein's government. Although the hills around Laiza have grown quiet for now, the dramatic upsurge in fighting underscored how far Myanmar is from achieving one of the things it needs most - a political settlement to end not just the war with the Kachin, but simmering conflicts with more than a dozen other rebel armies which have plagued the country for decades and still threaten its future.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Thein Sein's administration has signed truce deals with 18 armed groups - everyone except the Kachin

LAWA YANG: Kneeling beside a line of freshly dug trenches carved like one long, open wound into a lush hillside, the rebel sergeant peered through dusty binoculars at all his troops had lost.

Scattered across the sprawling valley below, a dozen thatched-roof homes stood quiet, abandoned by fleeing villagers as government forces drew near. Towering above: four forested mountain ridges seized by Myanmar's army after some of the bloodiest clashes here in decades so fierce the ethnic Kachin guerrillas who survived said the artillery fire came down like rain.

If the Kachin Independence Army, the last armed insurgent group still at war in Myanmar, loses just one more mountain ridge, there will be little to stop government forces from taking their stronghold on the Chinese border. They are ill-equipped some rebels wear helmets made only of hardened plastic and admit running low on ammunition but they remain defiant.

"We're very vulnerable because the army now holds the high ground," rebel Sgt. Brang Shawng said as he scanned the new front line at Lawa Yang, where his unit retreated last month.

But he added: "We will never give up. For us, this is a fight for self-determination, and I'll keep fighting for it until I die."

Government soldiers, bolstered for the first time by screeching fighter jets and helicopter gunships that pounded the hills for weeks, advanced late last month to within just a few kilometers (miles) of the rebel headquarters town of Laiza, the closest they have ever come.

The region has been relatively calm since, but even so, the dramatic upsurge in fighting underscores how far Myanmar is from achieving one of the things it needs most a political settlement to end not just the war with the Kachin, but decades-long conflicts with more than a dozen other rebel armies that have plagued the country for decades and still threaten its future.

Much is at stake for this Southeast Asian nation, which has stunned the world by opening politically and economically over the last two years following five decades of military rule. President Thein Sein's government rose to power in 2011 following elections that rights groups said were neither free nor fair, but it has since ushered in reforms, freed political prisoners and allowed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters to be elected to parliament.

Still, Myanmar has yet to resolve a multitude of conflicts with its ethnic minorities, which make up about 40 percent of the population. Their persistent push for political autonomy has turned vast patchworks of territory along the borders with China and Thailand into rebel fiefdoms rich in jade, timber, gold and opium.

In Kachin state alone, the control of which is split between rebels and the government, resource-hungry China has invested billions of dollars in hydroelectric dams. A Chinese-backed pipeline project is due to begin pumping oil and gas from the Bay of Bengal in May, and more development projects are planned, including highways and railways that would link Indian Ocean seaports with the rest of Southeast Asia. Most of them cross rebel zones.

Thein Sein's administration has signed truce deals with 18 armed groups everyone except the Kachin, according to Min Zaw Oo, who heads cease-fire negotiations at the Myanmar Peace Center, a government-appointed body that is coordinating peace talks.

Most of those truces had already been negotiated with the former junta, but the nation's former military rulers "never accepted the need for a political settlement," Min Zaw Oo said.

Thein Sein's administration, by contrast, realizes a cease-fire alone is not sufficient, he said. "This government sees dialogue as key. It is ready to talk. That's a major policy distinction."

Min Zaw Oo said he believes Myanmar has the best chance in 60 years of ending the country's ethnic conflicts. But he acknowledged that "practically, there are a lot of obstacles in the way."

Distrust runs deep, and even the truces remain fragile. The army and rebels in eastern Shan state, for example, have clashed at least 44 times since agreeing a cease-fire last year, Min Zaw Oo said.

In Kachin state, there has been speculation the government was trying to strengthen its hand at negotiations by escalating the war to new heights with airstrikes. But rebel Col. Zaw Taung, director of strategic analysis for the Kachin Independence Army, said the skirmishes only pushed the two sides further apart.

"They say they want peace, but they just threw everything they have against us," he said. "With one hand they're trying to burn us, with the other, they're trying douse us with water. They cannot be trusted."

The army, like the rebels, insists it fought only in self-defense.

On Wednesday, government envoys resumed talks in the Thai city of Chiang Mai with the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of 11 ethnic militias, including the Kachin, that banded together last year. Few expected any breakthroughs, and no cease-fire was reached with the Kachin, which have met the government more than a dozen times since war in the north reignited in 2011.

The talks are "only about the framework of future discussions," said Hkun Okker, a senior alliance member. "We're demanding a political dialogue, and the government agrees, but real dialogue hasn't started."

Last week, Thein Sein acknowledged that his country's history of ethnic conflict has been a major barrier to progress, and that achieving stability is crucial as it pursues a democratic future.

His words, though, were delivered on an occasion infused with bitter irony: Union Day, which commemorates the 1947 deal between Suu Kyi's father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, and ethnic leaders to break away from Britain's colonial arms together.

The so-called Panglong agreement also granted ethnic minorities autonomy, but it fell apart after the assassination of Aung San.

The Kachin, who are predominantly Christian in a majority Buddhist country, first took up arms in 1961. A 1994 truce with the army lasted 17 years, but during that time, rebel demands for rights and a federalist system were never addressed.

Instead, the junta in 2008 forced through a new constitution. The nation's minorities say it places enormous power in the hands of the central government and the military, which rights groups say has orchestrated a campaign of discrimination, forced labor and abuse against the Kachin and other groups for decades. The constitution can be amended only with approval of the armed forces, which even now control 25 percent of parliament.

Tensions rose further in 2009, when the junta tried to persuade ethnic armies to join a new border guard force. Most, including the Kachin, refused.

Two months after Thein Sein took office in 2011, the Kachin truce finally broke down when the army bolstered its presence near a hydropower plant in Dapein that is a joint venture with a Chinese company, and rebels refused to abandon a strategic base nearby.

Since then, more than 100,000 Kachin civilians have been displaced, and the rebels have progressively lost territory, pressed closer and closer against the Chinese border.

Only one major mountain ridge now separates Laiza from Myanmar's army, and a grim mood has settled over the town.

At the main cemetery, workers are erecting concrete tombstones for rebels who died in the latest fighting. At least 23 are buried here under mounds of red dirt, though rebel officials declined to say how many were killed altogether.

Every night, a single-file candlelight peace vigil organized by a Catholic priest snakes through Laiza's darkened and nearly deserted streets. Shops are closed. Displaced people crowd camps perched on a rocky river that marks the border with China.

The rebels, clearly outgunned, say they will not even try to retake lost ground. There is talk of the rebels abandoning Laiza if need be, of shifting their headquarters to a secret location if the army makes a push for the town. Most of their offices on a hillside overlooking town already appear empty, and the rebels' most senior leadership is no longer here.

"For a guerrilla army, what matters most is not holding ground, but maintaining the support of the people," Zaw Taung said, speaking at a Laiza hotel the rebels use as an office that is decorated with wall-to-wall maps.

Judging by comments from many Kachin, across many levels of society, they overwhelmingly support the rebels, whom they see as protectors and their legitimate government, perhaps now more than ever.

Asked why the rebels were the only armed group that has yet to sign a truce with the government, Zaw Taung was dismissive.

"We tried that for 17 years. What did it get us?" he asked. "The only thing that will end the war is a political solution. Without that, a truce means nothing. The fighting will go on."  http://thehimalayantimes.com/fullNews.php?headline=No+easy+answers+to+Myanmar%27s+ethnic+conflict&NewsID=366768