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Could investments derail the peace process in Burma?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Zin Linn       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Since ethnic armed groups of Burma/Myanmar meet to discuss a nationwide ceasefire proposal, the encouragement of political dialogue to deal with the causes of long-drawn-out conflict is stumbled on a crucial stage. This is an extraordinary chance to encourage an inclusive and transparent peace process which recognizes fundamental concerns relating to identity, security and justice, according to a well-known humanitarian agency which has assisted refugees for the past three decades.

The Border Consortium (TBC), an NGO that works with the displaced and conflict-affected people of Myanmar, released important findings from its annual survey on 1 November, 2013. The TBC's 44-page report - Poverty, Displacement and Local Governance in South-East Burma/Myanmar - tells chronic poverty, protracted displacement and weak governance as the starting point for conflict transformation. Eleven civil society organizations in South-East Myanmar collaborated with TBC to conduct the survey in 209 villages stretch across 6 states and regions. Approximately half of the villages surveyed are situated in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups.

It happens by and large in the border areas of South-East Myanmar that the legacy of military supervision and armed conflict leave despondency amid chronic insufficiency, widespread violence and long-lasting insecurity. Broad development goals for instance increasing economic growth, building government capacities and improving service delivery may not be constructive that the legitimacy of the state is in question. Policy which build confidence in the transition to peace and transform institutions to carry out security, justice and economic concerns may be more essential.

The survey reflects the vulnerability of the ceasefire agreements, and the possibility of grievances growing deeper due to unfettered investments in disputed areas.

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TBC's November-2013 report also analyzes the contemporary political bargaining of the government and the ethnic armed groups. The report says that "Negotiations are ongoing between the government and non-state armed groups about the framework for political dialogue to address the root causes of conflict. The government and some of the ethnic leaders are hoping a nation-wide ceasefire to signal the start of political dialogue could be announced before the end of 2013."

This agenda forecasts consultations and negotiations about thematic and constitutional issues providing a summit similar to Panglong Conference, as a consequence, a set of guidelines for a national accord could be announced prior to the end of this parliament's term in 2015.

The report also suggests that decades of conflict could not be resolved within a few months. But there is an inevitability to grab hold of the chance and create some transitional arrangements so as to continue the peace process getting deeper beyond the 2015 elections.

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The report also highlights the concerns of some ethnic leaders that the bilateral cease fire agreements have not yet been implemented to get going to a national cease fire. As a result, the proposed framework legitimizes the 2008 constitution and military involvement in parliament which are alleged as two key barriers to conflict transformation.

The report points out that the views of the military leaders about the proposed political dialogue process remain vague. On the other hand, a nation-wide ceasefire announcement could be interpreted as a gesture toward international investors that Myanmar's resource-rich borderlands are open for business.

With investors start entering into Myanmar, there are considerable risks that local communities will bear the brunt of resource taking out, which includes environmental damage, land confiscation and displacement, says up-to-the-minute report presented by TBC.

Thus the TBC report warns -- "In a transitional and unregulated environment, investments could induce another round of grievances and derail the peace process."

According to the report, 128,000 refugees are currently in camps in Thailand while an estimated 400,000 internally displaced persons are spread across the rural areas of South-East Myanmar. The atmosphere of political uncertainty raises hopes and anxieties for displaced and conflict-affected communities in South-East Myanmar and presents a dilemma for humanitarian agencies.

Involuntary return to former villages or resettlement nearby has been limited so far among both refugee and internally displaced communities. So, as said by the report, the challenge for humanitarian agencies is to keep up displaced persons and local communities to be prepared for the possible homecoming and reunion processes, without encouraging untimely and unsafe movements.

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This estimation has been guided by international standards which include people who have been forced to leave homes due to armed conflict, natural disaster or human rights abuses. Rather than setting arbitrary time limits for an end to displacement, international standards recommend to voluntary return or resettlement, reintegration into society without discrimination and the recovery or reimbursement of land and property.

TBC has documented the destruction, forced relocation or abandonment of more than 3,700 villages between 1996 and 2011 and an average annual rate of 75,000 people displaced during the past decade. This rate of displacement decreased significantly to approximately 10,000 people between August 2011 and July 2012. However, at least 400,000 internally displaced persons were estimated to remain in the rural areas of 36 townships of South-East Myanmar at the end of 2012, the report says.

TBC calls attention to the general agreement amongst the Governments of Myanmar and Thailand, the non-state armed groups, displaced persons, local communities and the international donor community that conditions are not yet conducive for an organized and sustainable homecoming procedure on a large scale.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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