Union Kayin League to be dissolved

UKL RepresentativeThe Union Kayin League (UKL), a successor to one of the oldest Karen political parties in Burma, has been dissolved. The party was a reformed version of the Union Karen League of Mahn Win Maung and vice-president Aung Pa which was closely affiliated to the AFPFL and U Nu in the 1950s. The reformed UKL contested the 1990 election and later was a participant at the National Convention. The party was viewed as being extremely close to the regime and was a signatory to statements criticizing the NLD (ironically the NLD was dissolved on the same day).

While the UKL has sixty days to contest the UEC decision it is unlikely to do so. There are three more Karen parties approved to contest the election: The Kayin People’s Party (KPP) of Simon Tha, the Phalon-Sawaw (Plone-Sgaw) Democratic Party (PSDP) and the Kayin State Democracy and Development Party (KSDDP). The latter was allegedly created by the regime’s information minister Kyaw San and its membership includes leaders from the DKBA, KPF and Padoh Aung San. While the PSDP has reportedly been successful in its campaigning activities, it is likely the SPDC would prefer the KSDDP to garner the most votes and rumours suggest that the Regime may be bankrolling the party.

Regardless of who wins Karen seats, there will be very little change for the Karen people at the grassroots level. While civil society networks may be strengthened in the cities and the Irrawaddy delta, for those villagers in the conflict zone constantly forced to flee Burma Army offensives the situation will, sadly, remain the same.

DKBA Commander San Byote Killed in KNLA Ambush

San Byote (aka Soe Myint) the DKBA commander who led the recent attack on Leh Per Her IDP camp and was a suspect in the assassination of KNU General Secretary Padoh Mahn Laphan was killed in a KNLA ambush yesterday evening (26 June 2009). The attack happened as San Pyote and a number of porters were travelling in two boats on the Moei river. While details are sketchy it is believed that five DKBA soldiers and two porters also died. Twenty others are believed injured, eight seriously.

SPDC rebukes EU Declaration

The State Peace and Development Council’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has issued a, somewhat factually-challenged, statement claiming that the recent EU Presidency Declaration on Karen Civilians fleeing fighting shows ‘total ignorance.
The EU declaration, issued on the 11th of June, calls for ‘… an immediate ceasefire and requests the authorities and military operators to ensure the protection of civilians at all times and to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law.’

The MOFA statement, printed in Sunday’s New Light of Myanmar, claims that the Internally Displaced Peopled, who have had to flee the IDP Camp at Leh Per Her to Thailand, are ‘…none other than members of KNU/KNLA and their families.’ The statement also incorrectly states that the Karen National Union is the last remaining armed group fighting against the Naypyitaw government ignoring both the Shan State Army – South and the Karenni National Progressive Party among others.
As is often the case, the government has tried to deflect criticism from its own systematic abuses and use of force against Burma’s minority peoples by claiming it to be an internal Karen problem. According to the statement the recent fighting was caused by the KNLA preventing followers of Nay Soe Mya, who surrendered in March, from joining him. It also claims that the Burma Army has had no involvement in the attacks despite evidence to the contrary that it is the Burmese Army, not the DKBA, that shelled the IDP camp prior to the exodus.

Not since May 2006, after the SPDC launched its offensive in Northern Karen State, have such patently ridiculous, and often contradictory, lies been trotted out by the government. The 2006 offensive, which is still ongoing, against KNU 2nd and 3rd Brigades, has resulted in the displacement of over 20,000 civilians and the relocation of thousands more. According to the Information Minister, Kyaw San, the reason for the offensive was the fact that the KNU commander was prejudiced against the Bwe/Geba Karens and favoured the Paku. (New Light of Myanmar, 15 May, 2006). Apparently, racial injustice can’t be tolerated when it’s purportedly practiced by the Karen, but for the SPDC, racism is not only allowed but encouraged.

One would have assumed, given so much practice at fooling its own people, if not itself, that the regime would have gotten better at lying. Unfortunately, I doubt the Generals care whether their lies are believable or not, no action is going to be taken against them anyway.

An obvious choice

It is interesting to note that the first country Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has chosen to visit since brutally quashing the Tamil Tiger rebellion is Burma. Over 20,000 civilian were estimated killed as the Sri Lankan military sought to wipe out the last vestiges of the Tamil independence movement. While there is little doubt that both sides acted in defiance of humanitarian norms, in relation to the civilian population the government still bears great responsibilty for the large number of civilians killed.

It must be pointed out that the Sri Lankan President will be visiting Burma at the height of another SPDC offensive against the ethnic Karen in the eastern borderlands of the country. One can only assume the main topic of conversation will be how best to eradicate or subjugate the various minorities in their respective homelands. Now that the Sri Lankan military has started mopping up operations against the Tamil minority it’s reasonable to be believe that the Burmese generals can give handy hints on the best methods of relocating and pacifying minority peoples based on their 40 odd years of experience.

Reports have already begun to surface that a large scale operation involving the detention of all Tamil civilians, regardless of connection to the conflict, has begun. A number of camps, supported by the U.N., currently hold over 100,000 civilians in the most appalling circumstances. According to a Channel 4 documentary

‘claims have emerged of shortages of food and water, dead bodies left where they have fallen, women separated from their families, and even sexual abuse.’

The Generals must be extremely encouraged that a country like Sri Lanka can be so easily allowed to massacre and imprison it own civilians with little or know censure. The UN has proved one again that it is ineffective and as such can not really be relied on to assist those most at risk. For its part, Burma donated $50,000 to Sri Lanka, on the 11th June, as …’humanitarian assistance…which will be utilized for the welfare activities of the IDPs in the North.’ according to Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Burma, Newton Gunaratna who also called the country a ‘Friend indeed’. Where the SPDC money is for the 4000 Karen civilians forced to flee an IDP camp in the east of Burma after it was shelled by the Burma Army remains a mystery.

Meanwhile a recent report, while emphasizing the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the LTTE, also accuses the Sri Lankan military of “the most depraved depths of humanity” after it was discovered that the Army had deliberately massacred surrendering rebels.

I’m sure both countries will be very happy in their friendship.