Thursday, December 1, 2011

Activists Protest at US Consulate as Clinton Tours Burma

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Burmese President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw on Thursday. (PHOTO: The Irrawaddy)

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Burmese government officials in Naypyidaw, 30 ethnic activists and supporters mounted a demonstration on Thursday outside the US consulate in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, calling on the secretary of state to include in her agenda the Burmese government forces' horrific record of human rights abuses in ethnic regions.

They said political progress and development in the capital and in Rangoon is not enough, and that deep in the jungle—often far from international eyes—civilians are continually suffering from human rights abuses and even starvation.

The Chiang Mai-based activists and their supporters also called on the US secretary of state to push the Burmese government to end ethnic conflict in the country, and release all political prisoners.

“There is no progress in the ethnic areas along Burma's borders,” said Cheery Zahau, a leading ethnic Chin dissident. “We want to say that progress in urban areas alone, such as Naypyidaw and Rangoon, is not enough.

“Clinton should pressure the government to immediately end its ongoing armed conflicts,” she said. “We also call on her to push for a dialogue involving opposition parties, ethnic armed groups and government representatives.”

A humanitarian report released on Thursday by the International Crisis Group (ICG) claims that the peace process has been made more difficult due to renewed clashes between Burmese government forces and the Kachin rebels, and that much bad blood remains.

The ICG report said that the new political process offers a framework within which these issues could be addressed, but that it will require an honest reckoning with the failures of the past and a fundamental re-thinking of the way the country deals with its multi-ethnic make up.

A lasting solution to the problem requires going beyond just stopping the wars, it said. Multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious Burma can only achieve genuine national unity and reconciliation by embracing its diversity, concluded ICG.

On Wednesday, Brig-Gen Gun Maw, the deputy military chief of the rebel Kachin Independence Organization, told The Irrawaddy that military means will not achieve peace, and that the ethnic conflicts can only be settled by political means.

“We want Clinton to tell the Burmese ministers that they need to find a solution to the ethnic conflicts,” said Gun Maw.

He said he had heard reports that Naypyidaw have begun using helicopters to deploy Burmese soldiers and military supplies from Mandalay to Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, in an effort to reinforce its military strength in the area.

Writing in the Asia Times on Wednesday, veteran journalist Bertil Lintner said that on Nov. 9, a cargo plane landed at Mandalay airport with what was possibly “a delivery of Russian-made MI-24 helicopter gunships destined for military use against the Kachins and other ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar's restive border regions.”

The ICG report concluded that the greatest improvements to human rights observance would come from tackling the ethnic armed conflicts.

“Once peace agreements are reached, there is an important role for donor countries in providing development assistance and peace-building support to these areas,” it added.
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