by SAN YAMIN AUNG & KYAW PHYO THA / THE IRRAWADDY | 13 Oct 2015
The general election slated for Nov. 8 is likely to be postponed after the Union Election Commission met with political parties on Tuesday.
RANGOON — The general election slated for Nov. 8 is likely to be postponed after Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) met with some of the nation’s largest parties on Tuesday.
UEC chairman Tin Aye asked those present at the Naypyidaw meeting whether the election should be postponed due to lingering damage from August’s floods crisis.
Representatives from seven of the 10 political parties invited to the meeting were present, including the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the National League for Democracy (NLD), the National Democratic Force, the National Development Party (NDP), Arakan National Party, the National Unity Party and the Myanmar Farmers Development Party (MFDP).
“During the meeting, U Tin Aye asked whether we should postpone the election because people may have difficulties in casting votes because of the natural disasters,” said Nay Min Kyaw, the secretary of National Democratic Front, who was present at the meeting.
Win Htein, a central executive committee member of the NLD, said Tin Aye wanted a nationwide postponement of the election and the UEC was expected to announce its decision in the coming days.
The USDP, NDP and MFDP supported the postponement while the NLD objected to the plan. The other three parties deferred the decision to the commission.
“When U Tin Aye proposed it they replied, ‘As you like, Mr Chairman’,” Win Htein said of the three abstaining parties.
Section 10(f) of the Union Election Commission law gives the body the power to postpone and cancel elections in constituencies affected by natural disasters.
Win Htein said that the NLD objected to the proposal because the former military regime sent the nation to the polls in May 2008 to approve the country’s Constitution, the week after Cyclone Nargis made landfall in the Irrawaddy Delta and killed an estimated 140,000 people.
“The NLD objected as the excuse was lame,” Win Htein told The Irrawaddy. “Even in 2008 during Cyclone Nargis, the referendum was not postponed. What happened now is not even a thousandth of the destruction we suffered at that time.”
More than 100 people died and a further 1.6 million people were displaced by the floods disaster, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
By Zon Pann Pwint
Sixty years ago, a couple from Yangon decided to drive a motorcycle across half of the globe. Their adventures lasted 365 days and covered 30 countries – and their escapades and experiences are more real, remarkable and exciting than the exploits of Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days.
The globetrotters pose on their bike in 1955. Photo: Supplied/Kabarhle Tin Tin SeinThe globetrotters pose on their bike in 1955. Photo: Supplied/Kabarhle Tin Tin Sein
In 1955, Daw Tin Tin Sein and her husband U Ba Toke, a forest conservator in the Burma Forest Service with a passion for photography, had been married for two years. He was 43; she was but 18. They had a young infant daughter. But they were also struck with wanderlust, curious about visiting remote corners in the western edge of their country, places like the Naga territory, the Chin hills and northern Kachin State.
But when they started actually planning a trip to see these places, they decided to dream even bigger – and go a lot further than the border.
“We tried to go beyond the limits of what is thought to be possible and wanted to see the natural wonders of the world. We decided to travel around the world,” Daw Tin Tin Sein, now 80, told The Myanmar Times last week by telephone.
What seemed at first like a crazy fantasy was made possible by the fact that U Ba Toke’s job as a government officer meant that, under the Service Regulation and Financial Regulation (SRFR) law, he was permitted to take a year’s paid leave for travel. Looking to take full advantage of that, the couple began applying for visas for a proposed route that would take them from Yangon northwestward through India, then across Asia and Europe, and then across the ocean to America.
The couple also drummed up their own publicity – and fundraising. A conversation with Nation newspaper editor U Law Yone led to a front-page story about their endeavours. It also led to a surprise sponsorship: U Law Yone gave them K1000 – a fair bit of money in those days.
Half of the gift – K500 – was used to purchase their vehicle: a 1942-model BSA (Birmingham Small Arms company) motorcycle, dating from the Second World War. Later on, a British newspaper article about the couple – entitled “Wanderers smile way across world” and reproduced in Daw Tin Tin Sein’s book Kabarhle Tin Tin Sein (World traveller Tin Tin Sein), published in four parts in 1999 and later gathered into one edition in July 2014 – reported that the motorcycle had had at least 10 previous owners, and had been purchased as junk. But despite knowing little about mechanics, U Ba Toke set about fitting it up for the journey.
The bike would prove up to the task – though for a while it seemed as if the trip would end almost as soon as it had begun.
With U Ba Toke in front and Daw Tin Tin Sein sitting behind – they never switched – the pair set off from Yangon to Monywa in Sagaing and then to Kalaymyo. But there they were told by residents that they would not be able to proceed to India via Tamu as planned – the route had been blocked by a landslide. They biked back to Yangon to think up another plan.
The setback proved a lesson in how gruelling the trip would be.
“The ground there was too rough to ride over. I was very tired from the journey and felt pain when the motorcycle jumped … As the journey started, we had the first taste of the trouble that was travelling by motorcycle.”
Still, they were not to be easily dissuaded. Since riding to India was impossible, they decided they would simply go by ship then pick up the road from there.
On September 29, 1955, the couple and their motorcycle departed Pansodan Jetty on a steamship bound for Calcutta. Friends, family and journalists came to see them off as they pulled away. Also staying behind was their six-month-old daughter, who remained in Yangon to be cared for by their parents. Daw Tin Tin Sein’s father had at first objected to the whole idea of her taking such a risk, but eventually offered his support.
The smooth sailing, however, ended on arrival in India. Immigration officers in what was then called Calcutta asked the couple to show their import permit for their motorcycle, which they hadn’t brought because they didn’t know it would be needed. The motorcycle was impounded.
After contacting the Automobile Association back home to help them reclaim their ride, the pair chose to stay at a monastery in Calcutta while they waited. They also took advantage of the delay by doing some travelling about southern India by train.
To help pay expenses, U Ba Toke began developing the negatives of the photos he had taken thus far, selling enlarged prints of the places they had seen.
At last, a month and a half later, the motorcycle was returned to them. Unfortunately, it had become covered in rust, necessitating a further four days of delay for repairs before they could be off.
Their first destination was Bodhgaya, birthplace of Buddha, where they spent two nights. (Later destinations holy to other faiths included the Mount of Olives and the Ganges River.) They also visited the Taj Mahal, as well as climbing into the Himalaya hills.
“I saw snow on the Himalayas for the first time in my life. It was too chilly. I melted the ice to drink and cooked our rice with cold water,” said Daw Tin Tin Sein.
The cold weather wasn’t the only surprise. She remembers being taken aback at some of the customs they encountered, especially those of one tribe in northern India.
“All brothers who were born of same parents wed a single woman. The brothers, their wife and their children lived in the same house. I had never heard of such custom and I wondered at it. But I saw how the brothers treated their wife and their children kindly. We were told that the custom had been practised since long ago in order to limit the population growth.”
They slept in hotels when they could and by the wayside when they couldn’t. Occasionally the motorcycle would blow a tyre on the rocky roads and send them flying off, injuring them both. Whenever this happened, U Ba Toke stayed with the bike while Daw Tin Tin Sein followed a guide to a nearby town, found a mechanic and then led the way back to the scene of the accident.
Despite the hardships, she remembers having a blissful time. A meeting with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at his home was just one of many highlights in India.
From there they continued to Lahore, Pakistan. They planned to ride through the Khyber Pass and on to Kabul, Afghanistan. “But we were told that the pass was unsafe for visitors and robbers might attack us so we couldn’t.”
It was another setback, but fortunately word had spread by then about these two intrepid travellers. Articles appeared in the newspapers, and a Pakistani radio station invited them to discuss their trip on-air, for which they were paid an honorarium. Such radio appearances, along with sales of U Ba Toke’s photos, kept them on the road.
Instead of going north to Afghanistan, they continued west through Iraq. The most dangerous moment in the trip came when they travelled 1000 miles across the desert sands north of Baghdad.
“We spent a night in a petrol shop, in Ramadi in the desert. The night in the desert was terribly cold. The cold was unbearable. The following morning, we continued to bike to Ruthba. At one point we faced a sandstorm. Unexpectedly we met a group of travellers with camels. They stopped us and dragged us from the motorcycle.”
The group surrounded them, shouting abuse in their own language. Then the shouts turned to a beating.
“Men, women and children kicked us, one after another. A middle-aged man tied our hands and legs together. I cried and cried. Though my husband was consoling me, his face fell,” Daw Tin Tin Sein said.
It looked as if the journey might come to an ill-fated end. But just as the group was building a fire nearby, a car drove up and stopped. The driver got out and yelled at the group in Arabic, causing them to fall quiet. Then another two men got out of the car and untied the rope binding the couple’s hands and legs.
Their rescuers, they later learned, had saved them from a group of cannibals.
“The man who rescued us said they were making a fire to roast and eat us. He told us to ride off on our motorbike. For our safety, the car kept following us until we reached a safe place,” Daw Tin Tin Sein said.
The near-miss wasn’t the only time they were saved by strangers: Whenever they faced danger during the trip, Daw Tin Tin Sein said they were always assisted by someone who selflessly came to their aid.
The Dead Sea, the Nile, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the spot where the Lighthouse of Alexandria once stood; Lebanon and Syria – soon it was time to leave Asia behind and enter Europe through Turkey.
They travelled by ship, train and bus as well as by motorcycle. They even saw Inuit people who showed them how to fish from a kayak in icy northern waters.
In Yugoslavia they were briefly detained for not being able to speak the language, but they were later freed. Otherwise, they got on with English, and everywhere they went their nationality proved to be a passport to acceptance.
“At that time, our country had dignity. If the people knew we were Burmese, they showed respect.”
Even their money was accepted. “I was impressed that I could convert kyat into local currency in the banks in many countries,” she said.
By this point, however, money had run dry. The original goal of a trip round the world was becoming increasingly unlikely, and their eventual destination proved to be England, where, among other media appearances, they were interviewed on BBC television for a program called In Town Tonight, for which they were paid £190 each.
“In the following days, almost every newspaper in London covered the story with the articles about us,” Daw Tin Tin Sein said.
From England they shipped the motorcycle home, then returned via train and ship, seeing many countries they had missed on the way out.
Then, a year after they left, the couple flew from India to Yangon – the only time they took a plane in 365 days of travel that took them halfway around the world.
After their return, the couple would go on to have five a family of five. Daw Tin Tin Sein worked as a teacher as well as a civil servant, first for the Ministry of Transport and later for the Ministry of Forestry. She gave lectures on Buddhism, and now owns the Myat (Glorious) Bagan Hotel. Her charity, World Tourist Tin Tin Sein Foundation, raises funds for the poor and destititute. She has written several books in addition to her account of the extraordinary journey
Sadly, U Ba Toke, her companion on the trip of a lifetime, passed away in 1996. He was not able to join her on the many trips she later took in her old age to America (the subject of a book-in-progress), Japan and Europe, where she taught a number of classes about meditation.
As for the motorcycle, after their return U Ba Toke treasured it and gave it a well-deserved retirement, riding it no longer. But he had older sons from his previous marriage (he was a widower when he met Daw Tin Tin Sein) and he was afraid his son might try to ride it and damage it. He gave it to his nephew for safekeeping, but since then, Daw Tin Tin Sein isn’t sure what’s happened to it, and so it’s no longer among her many keepsakes from their journey.
Another souvenir they didn’t get to keep was a brand-new motorcycle, personally given to them by BSA when they visited Birmingham – trade regulations, it turned out, prevented them from importing it back to Burma along with them.
Chinese officials have been “interfering” in Myanmar’s nationwide cease-fire talks with armed ethnic groups by convincing some of the rebels to exclude western observers from the process, a government negotiator said Friday.
Min Zaw Oo, director of cease-fire negotiations and implementation at the government-linked Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) said Chinese officials spoke with three large armed ethnic groups in areas along Myanmar’s border with China about the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) ahead of a signing ceremony set for Oct. 15.
“But we are not sure whether these officials are from [the central government in] Beijing or [local ones across the border in] Yunnan province,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Soon afterwards, the UWSA (United Wa State Army) released a statement demanding that western countries not be invited to the NCA signing ceremony,” he said, referring to observers from several nations who have been asked to join next week’s event.
The UWSA, one of the nation’s major armed ethic groups and which controls the Wa Special Region in eastern Shan state, has previously received support and weapons from China and is led by ethnic Chinese commanders.
The USWA is not planning to sign the NCA, which Myanmar’s government is pushing for ahead of general elections set for Nov. 8. The government needs a nationwide peace deal in place so the developing country can move forward with political dialogue with the country’s armed ethnic groups.
China has denied accusations of interfering in the peace process, and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims to have “consistently supported all sides in Myanmar in resolving differences through peace talks in service of signing a national-scale cease-fire agreement.”
But Min Zaw Oo said the recent talks between Chinese officials and armed ethnic groups had led him to question whether Beijing is sincere in its support for the peace process.
“Beijing [has said it] wants the Myanmar government to sign an NCA that includes all armed ethnic groups,” Min Zaw Oo said.
“But something we are not sure of is whether the meeting between Chinese officials and Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups is Beijing’s policy or just coming from local authorities in China.”
Parties to pact
The government has extended an offer to sign the accord to 16 armed ethnic groups, but only eight have agreed—the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, Arakan Liberation Party, Chin National Front, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, Karen National Union, Pa-O National Liberation Organization and Shan State Army-South.
Ten other groups have refused to sign because they say they want an “all-inclusive” deal.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA)—are still engaged in fighting with government troops in the Kokang region of Shan state, near the border with China, and have been excluded from the NCA.
“There might have been some involvement from [Chinese officials from] Yunnan during the Kokang clashes with Myanmar’s military,” Min Zaw Oo said, of why China would interfere in peace talks.
“It’s also possible that they wanted the Myanmar government to include the Kokang [armed] groups in the NCA, because the government army can attack them if they are not part of it.”
The government originally excluded the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) because it was fighting alongside the MNDAA and AA in Kokang, but recently invited the group to sign, Min Zaw Oo said.
“The TNLA can sign a bilateral cease-fire with the government first and then sign the NCA, before moving on to political dialogue,” he said.
As for the MNDAA, the government will include it in the political dialogue process, but the group will not be permitted to bring arms to the talks, Min Zaw Oo said.
The AA will agree to sign the NCA if the holdout Kachin Independence Army (KIA) does, he added, because AA troops are located in KIA territory in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, which also borders China.
Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) Work Committee spokesman Daung Kha told RFA that China was unlikely to try to undermine the NCA, and had even tried to forced Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups to sign the pact in the past.
“China previously forced [KIO armed wing] the KIA to meet with the government and sign agreements because it wants stability in the China-Myanmar border area,” he said.
“We haven’t had any pressure from China not to sign the NCA.”
In the meantime, clashes between the military and rebel armies continue in Shan and Kachin states, causing some to question the government’s commitment to the peace process.
“It seems the government is attacking armed ethnic groups intentionally, and it says one thing, but then does something different,” said Naing Han Tha, chairman of the New Mon State Party and leader of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), a coalition of rebel groups negotiating peace with the government.
“It shouldn’t be like this—not inviting some ethnic groups to sign the NCA. If it proceeds this way, we won’t have peace in our country.”
Leaders for some political parties have said they will not attend the NCA signing ceremony because the agreement will not include all armed ethnic groups.
Both Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwomen of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), nor Khun Tun Oo, chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), have refused invitations to attend the event.
Leaders of the 88 Generation students pro-democracy group on Friday declined to comment on whether they would attend.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine, Thiha Tun, Thinn Thiri and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Armed ethnic insurgents in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state have agreed to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government next week, becoming the eighth group to accept the terms of the pact, a rebel spokesman and state media said Wednesday.
The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) said Wednesday that its armed wing—the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S)—will lay down its weapons as part of the NCA, which is expected to be concluded during a signing ceremony with the government on Oct. 15.
“We have considered our past promises to work towards peace and after discussing the situation with our central executive committee, we decided to sign the NCA,” RCSS spokesman Sai La told RFA’s Myanmar Service, following a meeting at the group’s headquarters near the border with Thailand.
The RCSS will hold a press conference and release an official statement outlining its decision on Thursday, he said.
The group’s decision to sign the NCA, which President Thein Sein’s government has been pushing for ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov. 8, was confirmed in a report by the official Global New Light of Myanmar.
“The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army, during its central committee meeting yesterday, agreed to be a signatory to the nationwide cease-fire accord along with seven other groups,” the newspaper said, citing
Hla Maung Shwe, a senior adviser at the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in the commercial capital Yangon.
He said a letter confirming which leaders from the RCSS will attend the signing ceremony would arrive “in days to come.”
The government has extended an offer to sign the accord to 15 armed ethnic groups, but at a meeting last month in Chang Mai, Thailand, only seven of the 19 groups in attendance agreed to ink the deal because of the government’s refusal to make the NCA all-inclusive.
Three groups—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Arakan Army (AA)—are still engaged in fighting with government troops and have been excluded from the NCA.
‘Still not perfect’
Khun Sai, an advisor to the RCSS and editor of the Shan Herald News Agency, told RFA that since signing a bilateral peace deal three years ago, government troops and the SSA-S had clashed around 100 times, and he expressed hope that the NCA would put an end to the fighting once and for all.
“We can’t guarantee that fighting will come to a complete stop if we sign the NCA but, according to the agreement, we will establish joint monitoring committees at the state and union levels, as well as other rules and regulations,” he said.
“If we can implement these, it is basically a guarantee [to stop the fighting].”
Khun Sai said that even though only eight groups plan to sign the NCA next week, other stakeholders will be permitted to participate in the joint monitoring committees, and he expressed hope other rebel armies could be convinced to lay down their weapons.
“Political experts have said that signing the NCA will be like a honeymoon period—if this period is difficult, there will be additional problems in the future,” he said.
“We will have to be patient, prepare for political dialogue, and try not to break promises. It won’t be easy, but we have to do it.”
He also acknowledged that the NCA “is still not perfect,” adding that his biggest concern lies with how political dialogue will proceed after the signing.
“Discussing issues only amongst armed ethnic groups is already difficult—we can imagine how tough it will become when we include political parties,” he said.
Leader of the 88 Generation student democracy movement Min Ko Naing, who has been invited to next week’s ceremony, told RFA that no rebel army should be blacklisted for refusing the sign the NCA, as “every group has its own difficulties.”
“The government should open its doors when these groups want to participate in the NCA … but it shouldn’t be by force,” he said.
“We believe that the best way to solve our country’s political problems would be to invite every group to sign NCA … It is as important as the election is, and both things are connected.”
The RCSS decision to sign the NCA came as fighting broke out in Kachin state’s Hpakant township between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—another armed ethnic group which has refused to sign the NCA.
The firefights began at around 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, with two clashes occurring in Hpakant’s Nam San Chaung Phyar village and another two in nearby Jayayang village, KIA Major Tan Sant told RFA.
“The government’s Infantry Battalion 336 attacked KIA troops,” he said, adding that the military had used “heavy weapons,” such as 120 mm artillery, in the fighting.
The number of casualties from the engagement was not immediately known, though reports said at least one artillery explosion had sent villagers fleeing for safety.
In June and July, fighting between government troops and the KIA in Hpakant also displaced scores of villagers.
The fighting in Kachin follows reports of government troops launching an attack Tuesday against the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N)—the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP)—which rebels suggested was retribution for the group having refused to sign the NCA.
The clash was the first since the military shelled areas near the SSA-N’s headquarters in Loilen district two months ago and came days after the SSPP snubbed an invitation to a meeting between government negotiators and other armed groups in Yangon, which set the date for the NCA signing ceremony.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint, Kyaw Kyaw Aung, Khin Khin Ei and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Press Release of Arakan Army concern at the unfounded allegation from the CHTIMES24 on October 5, 2015
October 8, 2015
Arakan Army is deeply concern at the unfounded allegation from the CHTIMES24 on October 5, 2015 that the Arakan Army committed extortion, robbery, looting, terrorism, smuggling, kidnapping, crimes in Chittagong Hill Tracts. We strongly reject such groundless accusations against Arakan Army, and we suspect that credibility of newspaper is questionable.
The Arakan Army has never been involved in such activities nor will engage in any wrongdoing behaviors as the Arakan Army is well trained to uphold moral obligation and principles to protect the people of Arakan and its neighboring as well.
We have also learnt some news reports earlier, accused of the Arakan Army as criminals and illegal traffickers, we believe such unreasonable accusations would neither benefit nor address to the people of Bangladesh and government’s policy as well. It only undermines credibility of the Arakan Army and appease the Burmese authoritarian military regime.
We, the Arakan Army condemn such criminal acts against civilians, and we will never hesitate to cooperate with any organizations or governments to combat against these criminals. We request the government of Bangladesh to investigate into the CHTIMES24 October 5, 2015 claims against Arakan Army and bring culprits to the justice.
Ref: ရကၡိဳင့္တပ္မေတာ္ - သတင္းႏွင့္ ျပန္ၾကားေရးဌာန
Sushmita S. Preetha
Three years ago, standing amidst the ruins of Sada Chit Bihar in Ramu –amidst beheaded statues, disintegrated remains of ancient texts and charred walls of prayer halls – I had attempted to console a grieving monk. What did one say to a person whose traditions, religious sites, ancient relics and, indeed, way of life had been attacked, violated, desecrated in a coordinated attack by the majority Bangali-Muslim population, by people who, prior to then, he had considered his neighbours, friends, brothers? I didn't know; and so, feebly, almost formulaically, I had muttered (as we civil society types do every time there is an incident of outrage): Justice will be served to those who carried out this monstrosity, you'll see. He didn't look up from the scraps of a Taal Pata Puthi (religious scroll on borassus flabellifer leaves) he held in his hands. “Justice?” he said resignedly, “There's no justice in this country; not for us anyway.”
Three years later, his words have taken on a prophetic dimension. At this point, with the communal attacks in Ramu all but a distant memory in the minds of a nation prone to amnesia, justice seems like a far-off cry, a fantasy, a farce. Three years, numerous probes and 19 cases later, we still don't know who instigated the attack and why. Of 15,182 people named in different cases, only 483 were arrested, all of whom are currently out on bail.
Thousands of people, both locals and outsiders, had participated in the well-orchestrated attack on the Buddhist community in Ramu, following outcries over a derogatory image of Islam in Uttam Barua's Facebook account (subsequent investigations found that the photograph was forged). On September 29, 12 temples were burnt, six more were wrecked and at least 50 houses were destroyed; the next day, the violence spread to Ukhiya, Teknaf and Patiya, destroying a total of eight temples and monasteries, including two Hindu temples, and numerous Buddhist homes. Locals reported that members of all political parties, including prominent local leaders, took part in the violence in an ominous show of camaraderie. Characteristically enough though, after the event, the two parties went back to blaming each other for instigating the attack. Thus far, some leaders of the BNP-Jamaat have been named in the charge-sheet, but the names of AL leaders have been mysteriously left out by the police, even though the Buddhist community submitted a list to the SP naming the AL leaders who had played an undeniable role in the violence.
With a communal force like Jamaat in our backyard, it is easy enough to blame any and all acts of communal violence on them, allowing us, the liberals and seculars, to distance ourselves from the ugly side of majoritarian politics. But what happens when the story isn't as convenient as that? What happens when ruling party men themselves are involved, when it is under their patronage that attacks are carried out on Hindu families so that their land can be grabbed, or adivasi communities displaced from their homes (TDS, Dec 12, 2015; TDS July 15, 2015)? The answer's obvious enough. It's an age-old saying, after all, jor jar, mulluk tar (might is always right). It would be nothing if not naïve to expect the case of Ramu to be different, for the party to take a zero-tolerance stance on members who violated the principles the party professes to hold dear, for it to finally acknowledge the ways in which some of its members, inebriated on power, preyed on vulnerable populations, fuelling rather than challenging communal sentiments. It's much easier to absolve oneself from any and all blame when one is in power, even if there is evidence to the contrary.
And what of the local administration and law enforcement agencies, who stood by and watched the tragedy unfold, folded arms and all? The rampage continued for hours on end, unhindered. From the beginning of the first rally at 8.30/9 pm in the evening to the last attack, late at night (the last flames died at around 4.30 am), there was ample time and opportunity for the law enforcers to intervene, but they did nothing, ignoring the urgent appeals of the Buddhist community. What's even more inexplicable is how the violence could spread to Ukhiya, Patiya and Teknaf the following day.
We were “assured” after the attack that the in/action of the law enforcers would be “looked into” and “action taken against anyone found negligent of his duties”. However, till now, no administrative or legal action has been taken against any person, except for closing the then SP of Cox's Bazar and the OC of Ramu Police Station and transferring them. The latter that night was seen on the stage of a rally, making a provocative comment to the effect, “I am a Muslim. I should have also joined the procession.” As his questionable role really could not be denied, he subsequently became the“fall guy” in the Home Ministry and police probe reports. The police probe body blamed the then SP and OC for “failing to take appropriate measures” to contain the situation but did not suggest any action against the SP, nor did it mention anything about the failure of intelligence agencies in providing police authorities with information. The same report stated that the DC was having his farewell party at the time and “failed to judge the gravity of the situation”, but, again, no action was suggested against him. The probes couldn't even provide a consistent timeline of when the police arrived and what they did at each step of the attack.
Two writ petitions were filed by Supreme Court lawyers seeking action against the perpetrators responsible for the attacks and the local administration officials on charge of neglect of duty. Following this, three probes were undertaken, but these have been pending with the HC for the last two years due to “technicalities”. Interestingly, there are significant contradictions between those named in the judicial inquiry report and the charge-sheet issued by the police, which begs the question: once a criminal case is closed, what happens if and when the judiciary finds a different set of perpetrators? According to one of the writ petitioners, the judicial probe actually identifies an AL leader as the Number 1 perpetrator of the attack and names a number of other AL members as having been involved in the attack. These names are missing from the charge-sheets.
Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that eyewitnesses are shying away from giving testimonies. Locals don't know who they can trust, and who will protect them if they do name influential people in the community. In fact, those who gave testimonies for the judicial inquiry report were subsequently threatened, after the highly confidential document, along with the witnesses' names and details, was leaked. Why, after all, risk their lives and whatever little is left of their sense of security in the grand pursuit of justice, when there is no guarantee that those they name will ever even be arrested?
Impunity for communal attacks is nothing new; it's the norm, not the exception. Fourteen years since the post-election communal violence perpetrated against the Hindu community in 2001, no coordinated action has yet been taken to bring the masterminds to justice. The BNP-Jamaat alliance, which was in power at the time, and under whose aegis these attacks were allegedly carried out, categorically downplayed the magnitude of the violence, granting immunity to the perpetrators during their rule. In 2009, under the current regime, a judicial commission formed to probe the atrocities, found the involvement of 26,352 people, including 25 ministers and lawmakers of the previous BNP-Jamaat alliance government. But since then, beyond press conferences by the then Home Minister to share the report findings, what steps, we ask, has the government taken?
Minority communities in the country have learnt, if not to accept, at least to expect, impunity of criminals for crimes committed against them. With Ramu, we could have proved them wrong; we could have done things differently, we could have shown that “secularism” is not just a catch-phrase to be used in talk-shows and rallies. But history, as the Buddhist monk already knew three years ago, has a way of repeating itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, and then as Bangladeshi politics.
The writer is an activist and journalist.
Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI)
>>>>More Info http://burma.usembassy.gov/yseali.html