Category Archives: Nation

Eliminating Blood Honey and Support Tiger Conservation in The Sunderbans

Tiger Consrvation in the Sunderbans

The boat glides slowly into a channel between two islands. The silhouettes of the mangrove trees rear up like sentinels into the clear night sky, just hours before dawn. Sanatan Sardar, 35, barely notices the mysterious beauty of the Sundarbans forests, he is more concerned about guiding his boat with his group into the Sundarbans to collect wild honey.

Moulis like Sanatan are the traditional honey gatherers in the Sundarbans who venture into the forest during honeycollection season, which lasts for about three months in a year.

Sanatan is from the Sardarpara village on Satjelia island of Sundarbans and is the leader of his group, the most experienced and skilled. His group, mostly family members, venture out together with each trip lasting between 7-15 days. The Forest Department issues a license every season to leaders like Sanatan for collection of wild honey from the Sundarbans. Over 3000 honey collectors are issued permits each year to enter designated forest areas for honey collection. Honey collectors make nearly 6000 rupees every month during the season. However, such forays into the forest are fraught with danger. In the past 15 years, nearly 100 honey collectors have lost their lives to tiger attacks. Therefore, the moniker ‘blood honey’.

Sanatan and his group are well aware of this danger and exercise precautions. While in the forest, certain members of the group specially act as look outs for tigers and post collection, each group anchor their boat only in the middle of the creek between islands to prevent tiger attacks. However, in spite of such precautions, honey collectors are still at risk. These men are the sole earning members of their families, and an attack could put the future of an entire family at risk.

WWF-India has been working in the Sundarbans since 1973 with a focus on conserving its biodiversity, particularly tigers, as well as promoting alternate livelihood and clean energy solutions for local communities to reduce conflict with wildlife and pressures on natural habitat with the objective of achieving a harmonious co-existence in the region. This issue of wild honey collection and its impact on the lives of honey collectors is a priority concern for WWF-India as well as the policy and decision makers in Sundarbans.

Sustainable and safe honey production

Apiculture in forest fringes of Indian Sundarbans within the state of West Bengal with Apis mellifera is in large scale. Approximately 5,545,281 kg of honey valuing 419,676,874 was produced over a period of seven years (2005–2012) from the apiculture. WWF-India believes that the fatal casualties associated with the livelihood of honey collection can be avoided if traditional honey collectors are permitted to keep apiary boxes in designated forest areas to produce honey instead of going into the forest to extract wild honey. Human-wildlife interaction will thereby be reduced to zero and at the same time the community will be assured of a harvest. This option will also help in receiving community support for tiger conservation in the Indian Sundarbans. WWF-India in collaboration with Sundarban Biosphere Reserve Directorate have designed pilot studies since 2014 to establish a safe and sustainable honey production in Sundarbans.

Honey BeeExcerpts from the pilot studies

The results of the pilot studies exceeded expectations!The daily yield of honey from each apiary box has been nearly double the quantity collected by groups such as those of Sanatan’s. The honey prepared in these boxes were tested for quality at the Kolkata lab of Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS)and Bose Institute, Kolkata and it matched the standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).The results of the study bode well for groups such as Sanatan’s who by setting up such apiary boxes can avoid going into the forests of Sundarbans. Collection of such blood-free honey, if adopted on a large scale, has the capacity to eliminate casualties due to tiger attacks.

Optimism and concerns

Sanatan Sardar is upbeat about the collaborative initiatives of WWF-India and Sundarban Biosphere Reserve Directorate initiatives in Sundarbans, as this option has emerged as a safe and secure livelihood option. In various stakeholder discussions, the honey collectors have shown interest to shift towards this secure and sustainable livelihood option. There are requests from other honey collectors in the region to be trained on apiculture and willingness to shift from the present practice.

WWF-India is engaging with the Forest Department to set up bottling units in around 46 forest fringe villages of Sundarbans which enable honey collectors to convert their product into saleable table honey to increase sales. Discussions are underway to develop institutional mechanism of honey collection, processing and marketing. Apart from this engagement, a practical manual is being prepared in association with scientific institutions for the honey collectors to maintain industry standards. It is also important to eliminate middle men from the chain and ensure that the local communities directly sell their products in the market.

More ground to cover

WWF-India believes that there is more ground to cover regarding long term sustainability and scalability of this initiative which would stand scientific scrutiny. WWF-India in collaboration with premiere scientific institutes are carrying out ecological studies to assess carrying capacity and pollination ecology to estimate honey yield. The carrying capacity of Sundarbans forests will help determine how many apiary boxes can be placed to ensure economic feasibility of this initiative at a large scale. Further, WWF-India aims to create market linkages for the honey collectors to ensure a premium price for this high quality honey and is already in discussion with marketing entities and certification agencies thereby helping to improve profit margins while reducing the risks associated with this livelihood.

Courtesy: Ratul Saha, Landscape Coordinator-Sundarbans Landscape, WWF-India Team

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Myanmar

The Hidden Gems of Myanmar

One visit to Myanmar is enough to dazzle travellers. The eclectic fusion of the traditional and the modern, the old and the new entices visitors to partake of and enjoy the way Myanmar thrives, despite the many challenges it faces. The discerning traveller would not miss observing the energy, hope and potential lurking in the air of Myanmar.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has opened its doors to the world in the last couple of years and has become one of the go-to holiday destinations for people across the globe. Myanmar provides something to please everyone and ensures that nobody leaves its shores disappointed. The most popular tourist destinations include Yangon, Mandalay, Kalaw, Bagan to name a few. However, there are a number of places in Myanmar that have remained off the beaten track. This article uncovers such gems.

LOIKAW

Loikaw, the smallest state of Myanmar, has largely remained untouched by tourists and is one of the least visited places in Myanmar, which adds to the charm and lure of the place. Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah State. It is located in the Karen Hills area, near the State’s northern tip. Loikaw, along with Demoso, in the Kayah State, have been opened to independent tourists only since 2013.

For a place so remote and unaffected by tourism, the large ethnic diversity one finds in Loikaw is fascinating to observe- Palaung, Shan, Kayah, Kayan are some of the groups found here, each adding their bit in making the state of Loikaw an eclectic melting pot. A stroll through the villages of Loikaw will open up interesting vistas for the tourists in the form of stunning pagodas, temples, stupas, lakes and caves. Tourists are likely to come across ‘long neck women’ wearing golden rings coiled around their necks. A curious traveller will certainly be intrigued by this unusual sight. While it is difficult to trace a reason for this, it is believed that these rings protect the Palaung women from being killed by tigers and the long neck makes them look beautiful.

Loikaw offers a quiet and serene environment to tourists, ideal for indulging their spiritual side and to introspect. One of the most popular sights in Loikaw is the famous pagoda called, ‘Taung Kwe’, towering above the town, on the top of a lime stone hill on the Mingalar Thiri Mountain. The spectacular view of the town especially during sunset makes the journey to Loikaw worthwhile. A cluster of other pagodas such as Myaka Lup pagoda, Shwe Let War pagoda and Nagayon pagoda stand behind Taung Kwe pagoda. Other places that offer a visual treat to tourists include:

i. Seven Stages Lake- a series of seven interconnected lakes, known for the scenic beauty and tranquillity they offer to the tourists.

ii. Christ the King Cathedral- built in 1939, it is Kayah’s oldest surviving church and is a fusion of traditional European architecture and local Buddhist styles.

iii. Kayah State Cultural Museumbuilt in 1996, it is a treasure trove for all the art and cultural aficionados, interested in discovering the life of the Kayah inhabitants. The museum holds a rich collection of books, traditional dresses, household utensils, weapons, paintings and musical instruments.

The sleepy city of Loikaw provides a pleasant introduction to the Kayah way of life and is a base for venturing out into the neighbouring villages.

HPA-AN

The Hidden Gems of MyanmarSitting on the eastern bank of the Thanlwin river, the capital of Kayin (also known as Karen) State, Hpa-an is a place where time seems to stand still. The laidback atmosphere and breath-taking caves and mountains make Hpa-an a backpacker’s paradise. Thanks to the new highway linking Hpa-an to the Thai border at Mae Sot and Yangon, and improved border crossing facilities at Myawaddy, this remote place is witnessing a steady flow of visitors, especially from the neighbouring Thailand.

The population of Hpa-an, about 421,575 (2014 census), predominantly comprises people of the Karen ethnic group, which make up approximately seven percent of the total Burmese population. The place offers a unique opportunity to the curious traveller to know more about the local Karen culture, as majority of people have held on to their traditional ways and language.While Hpa-an is safe and peaceful for visitors, November is a good time to head there, for the visitor can experience the Karen Don festival and get a true insight into its culture.

Besides lazing around at the delightful riverside, soaking in the picturesque landscape, lush green fields, tourists have plenty to enthral them on their visit.

i. Mt. Zwegabin- Dominating the landscape of Hpa-an is Mt. Zwegabin, about 7 miles south of the town, and 2372 ft. in height. The hike to the summit is demanding, but duly compensated by the stunning 3600 views of the town on offer.

ii. Saddan Cave- Gigantic cavern filled with dozens of Buddha statues, pagodas, wall cravings and a lake, transports the traveller to a different world away from the hustle bustle.

iii. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda- Perched atop a limestone pinnacle, this unique and surreal pagoda almost seems to defy gravity.

iv. Kaw Gun Cave- Located near Kawgun village, this is a natural limestone cave and is covered with several Buddha statues, many dating back to the seventh century.

While Hpa-an may not be the preferred place to visit on the trip to Myanmar, it certainly is worth a visit and offers spectacular vistas for the tourists.

DAWEI

The Hidden Gems of MyanmarBeing closed for tourism until early 2013, Dawei is largely undeveloped and unexplored. But, therein lies an opportunity for an adventurous traveller, looking for an authentic and novel experience. Dawei offers jaded travellers everything that a metropolitan city does not- peace, fresh air, pristine beaches, solitude, few people et al.

Dawei is the capital of the Tanintharyi Region and got its independence from the British rule in 1948. It has enormous potential for tourism, as it has something for everyoneuntouched coastline, jungle interior, sprinkling of islands, beautiful pagodas and white sand beaches. With imminent development threatening to disturb the idyllic and untouched environment of Dawei, a trip to Dawei makes for a great treat. Some of the places that could be explored besides lazing around in the town are:

i. Maungmagan Beach- The most popular beach with the locals, around 12 km west of Dawei, Maungmagan has seen a semblance of development; some tea shops, beer stations and restaurants.

ii. Nabule Beach- Tourists can head to Nabule Beach around 15 km north if they want to experience stunning white sands of the Nabule Beach, away from humanity.

iii. Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda- The main religious site in Dawei, the Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda is a sprawling complex of shrines and statues.

Dawei is one of those places where one could just relax and do nothing.

Rudyard Kipling described Burma (now Myanmar) as, “This is Burma. It will be quite unlike any land you know about.” It is calling out loud to travellers, time to answer the call.

Courtesy- Arun Arora is a writer, trekker and a traveler who shares his experiences on various digital portals.

Pope Francis Visits Myanmar

Pope Francis

Amid the atmosphere fuelled with distrust and intolerance, Pope Francis made his maiden visit to Myanmar in the first week of December. His visit was carefully observed and followed by the experts for it was imperative for him to maintain his moral authority of being the guardian of the poor and the powerless, and at the same time refrain from engaging in any act which could transpire unpleasant situation for Catholics in Myanmar or mar diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Naypyidaw which got established recently. Thus, his conscious non-admission of the term ‘Rohingya’ during his speech was an outcome of this arrangement.

The leader of the world’s Roman Catholics – Pope Francis, professed all to respect each other’s identity and ethnic diversity. He stated that his main purpose of visiting the country was, “to pray with the nation’s small but fervent catholic community, to confirm them in their faith, and to encourage them in their efforts to contribute to the good of the nation.” Stressing on the Christ’s message of reconciliation, forgiveness, peace and harmony, Pope Francis set the resolve behind his two-nation apostolic visit.

During his visit, he urged all to ‘commit to justice and respect for human rights’ with state authorities, religious leaders and civil society members playing the most crucial role of peacebuilding. His meeting with the state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi got preceded by top military general Aung Hlaing’s interaction with him who mentioned that there is ‘no religious discrimination’ in Myanmar.

Catholics from across the country flocked in huge numbers to Yangon to be blessed by Pope’s healing presence who led an open -air Mass. He shared “Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building. Religion can play a significant role in repairing the emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds of those who have suffered in years of conflict.”

The Rohingya Rampage

The Rohingya Rampage

For the past few years migration has been the most significant topic of debate, dissent and discussion around the world. From Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border to the sands of the Middle East, and from the shores of the Mediterranean to the jungles of Central Africa, conflicts and economic crises have forced many out of their homes and on a seemingly never-ending search for safety. It is indeed true that many of those seeking refuge do actually need it. At the same time, it is also true – as has been stated in countless reports – that unchecked immigration brings with it a gamut of threats for a host culture, a nation and, ultimately, a civilization.

By now everyone who follows the news, even occasionally, is aware of the plight of the Rohingyas. Driven out of their homes in Myanmar, the Rohingyas are fleeing their ravaged lands for shelter in neighbouring Bangladesh by crossing riverine areas. The history of Rohingyas and the debate over whether Myanmar is right or wrong is beyond the scope of this article. But whatever history is available in the public domain points that the Bengali-speaking Rohingyas were settled in the Arakan region by the British, who brought the people from neighbouring lands in what is now Bangladesh. It is also noteworthy that the Rohingya issue is not new. The northwest region of Myanmar has been burning for the past many years now. But international criticism mounted following the government’s crackdown on the armed terrorist group called Arakan-Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which, as a collateral damage, has led to the mass exodus of the Rohingyas. The United Nations calls Rohingyas “the world’s most persecuted community”.

Rohingya Majority in Rakhine State MyanmarThe condition of Rohingyas is indeed appalling. In fact, all ethnic minority communities in any of the Asian or African countries live on at the edge of a precipice. Political or religious persecution can either force them to seek refuge in other nations or, in worst cases, push them off the cliff to their doom. Being the world’s most diverse (yet united) country, India has served as an example for the world. It has been home to refugees from neighbouring nations in the past as well; most notably the Tibetans. India is, therefore, being criticised for the government’s decision to deport the Rohingyas, who, according to government estimates, number at around 40,000. The supporters of the Rohingyas are unable to believe that a nation which has been home to many other ethnic minority groups in the past is now taking such a “nonhumanitarian” stand. But the Indian government has given its own reasons for this approach. In their affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the government defended its decision to deport the Rohingyas on the grounds of national security. In their 16- page affidavit, the government pointed at, among other things, the demographic change, illegal activity being committed by Rohingyas, and their terror links with groups including Islamic State. The details of the affidavit have already been extensively discussed, defended or criticized by journalists, columnists and experts in the media.

At the same time, questions have been raised in public domain on how the Rohingyas reached all the way up to Jammu and “settled” there. Separatist leaders extending their vocal support to Rohingyas residing in the state have been criticised for not standing up in a similar manner for the Kashmiri Pandits – the largest internally displaced group in India. Articles have been written highlighting how in the name of the action against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, terrorists attacked the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya and some fundamentalists in Mumbai went on rampage during the Azad Maidan riots. It has also been pointed out that Rohingyas, too, have skeletons in their own closet.

The ARSA has been accused by Myanmar for attacks on government forces. In fact, Myanmar claims that its actions are targeted against this terrorist group, which it considers a threat to its national security. The group has also been accused of killing other ethnic population in Rakhine – the Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed that the group receives support from terrorist organisations in other countries, particularly Pakistan and Middle East. While taking a sympathetic approach towards Rohingyas, a New York Times article in September this year had been unable to ignore the rapid rise in Islamic radicalisation in Myanmar.

In fact radicalism of the refugees has been a prime concern of many political commentators for genuine reasons.

The Rohingya Rampage

In September this year, Al Qaeda’s Yemen chief urged Muslims to show solidarity with the Rohingyas by attacking the “enemies of God”. These and other economic reasons have even made Bangladesh – where the highest number of Rohingyas have taken refuge – admit that they pose a security risk. Asaduzzaman Khan, Bangladeshi Home Minister, had expressed his fears to the ABC in the following words: “It (the Rohingya refugee problem) will be our threat in the future. These people left everything. For their survival, they will do anything. Anyone can easily purchase them. They can join the international terrorist groups also.” This is why Bangladesh, too, wants the international community to mount pressure on Myanmar to take the refugees back. And while the international community, particularly the rights agencies, are repeatedly highlighting the “plight pain and suffering” of the Rohingyas, they are doing precious little to address the concerns of the host nations. And then there are voices that claim that the Indian Government is seeing Rohingyas as Muslims and not as refugees. That the population of Muslims – a minority – has steadily risen in India and that they enjoy all the guarantees under our Constitution and hold the highest of offices in the country are perhaps the best answers to such divisive voices. Muslims in India have been coexisting peacefully with members of other religions because of the secular nature of both the society and the law. The Constitution may have included the word ‘secular’ much later but the ethos was ingrained in the people of the country since way, way before independence. On the contrary, the condition of minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh is indescribably pathetic. The major reason is the complete absence of a secular ethos and the idea in their legal system.

Reports in the media have revealed that Hindu Rohingyas have become targets of fundamentalists in the refugee camp in Bangladesh. Women have had to move around without the vermillion on their foreheads, which is an identifier of any married Hindu woman. (Daily Mail – Sep 25 and 26, 2017) Fundamentalists are allegedly busy converting Hindu Rohingyas than helping people in distress in Bangladesh’s refugee camp – a revelation not even those who are supporting the Rohingyas have been able to deny.

The Rohingya Rampage

It has been alleged that many of those voices which stand up for Rohingyas become silent when it comes to persecution of other minority groups in Islamic countries. It has also been pointed out that many of the rich Islamic countries are only doing lip-service to the Rohingyas. “Isn’t it ironical that the Islamic nations aiding Rohingya jihad and slamming Myanmar are reluctant to give refuge to the fleeing Rohingyas?” asked Brahma Chellany on Twitter. It is a point that the international rights groups are deliberately ignoring. How can some nations have the right to refuse refugees while others don’t? And then there are many questions being asked around by concerned citizens: How can a nation, which is already besieged on all sides by terrorism take the risk of giving shelter to an ethnic group which provides fundamentalists within the country and outside a fertile recruitment ground? How can a nation which already has a hundred thousand mouths to feed afford another 40,000 who will no doubt multiply in large numbers because of a host of social and economic reasons already discussed in public domain? How will India provide them jobs when there are so few for Indians themselves? Who will guarantee that the Rohingyas will not be used as vote banks by the political class? How will the Rohingya who come from a world where a secular ethos we see in India has never been practiced understand India’s multicultural image? Those in support of Rohingyas cite our Constitution which extends rights to everyone in India. It is indeed praiseworthy for our Republic because not all constitutions around the world give such a right.

In the end, all that a sensible human being would hope is that those in distress get a life of dignity without such compromises which might put others in distress.

Courtesy: Manas Sen Gupta is a journalist who writes avidly on International Relations and Foreign Policy

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar’s Matters

Bamboo Technology Park : Inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Assam in Guwahati

Mr Sarbananda Sonowal
Assam Chief Minister Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal

The North-East of India is considered a paradise abound with unique and exquisite natural resources. Recently, Bamboo Technology Park was instituted at Chaygaon in Assam with an investment of Rs. 62.28 crore.

Bamboo is an abundant and a highly valued natural resource found in the North-East of India, particularly in Assam. Its anti-erosional and renewable property makes it a multipurpose resource. Due to its varied usage, it is copiously cultivated in the homesteads, village gardens, and agricultural lands and even in the field boundaries.

While inaugurating the Bamboo Technological Park in the vicinity of Guwahati, Chief Minister of Assam, Mr. Sonowal stated, “There are hundreds of MSME’s that produces incense sticks and bamboo handicraft products. Two very large paper plants are in Assam that uses bamboo as the raw material.”

The park has been equipped with the modern Common Facility Centre for producing creative and innovative bamboo products. The facilities include vacuum pressure treatment plant, bamboo stick and resin making facility, to name a few.

The cumulative efforts of private entrepreneurs, the Assam Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion helped in establishing the Bamboo Technology Park, with the view to ensure optimum utilization of bamboo at the commercial level.

Myanmar Caught in the Trap of Climate Change

Swati Prabhu
Doctoral Candidate, Centre for European Studies,
School of International Studies, JNU

Myanmar Climate Change

With talks about climate change and sustainable development doing the round these days, the entire global fraternity is bearing the brunt of it and Myanmar is not left alone. With nearly 75% of the country’s population depending on agriculture, threats of water shortages, drought, heat waves etc, could easily take a toll on the livelihoods of people. The country’s anatomy is peculiarly shaped in the form of a kite with a long tail that runs south along the Malay Peninsula. It is also the northernmost country in the Southeast Asian region with China situated towards the north and northeast and India to the northwest. However, the country is not untouched by the damaging effects of the changing climate and fears of the worsening environment. According to the recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released earlier this year, climate change could prove to be disastrous for Asia, especially for Myanmar. President Trump’s appalling decision to withdraw support from the Paris Agreement, it may appear to have caused massive repercussions on the Asian dream of curbing emissions. However, with China taking a positive stance to press ahead with emissions reduction, countries like Myanmar hope to get some positive encouragement and assistance.

Myanmar Climate Change - PagodaThe report produced by the ADB and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) makes for grim reading, should the predictions eventuate. Under a “business as usual” scenario, a 6 degree Celsius temperature rise is projected over the Asian landmass by the end of the century, with an increase as high as 8 degrees C forecasted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and northwest China. “These increases in temperature would lead to drastic changes in the region’s weather system, agriculture and fisheries sectors, land and marine biodiversity, domestic and regional security, trade, urban development, migration, and health. Such a scenario may even pose an existential threat to some countries in the region and crush any hope of achieving sustainable and inclusive development,” the report said. In addition to this, according to the 2016 Climate Risk Index, Myanmar is the second-most vulnerable country in the world to the effects of climate change. According to the latest projections, Myanmar faces more extreme weather events as temperatures rise: more cyclones, more storms, more floods and more droughts. Before 2000, cyclones made landfall along Myanmar’s coast once every three years. Since the turn of the century, cyclones have made landfall every year.

In spite of this, the picture is not that bleak. The plethora of economic opportunities offered to the Asian countries, specifically Myanmar, is headed by a ‘firming recovery’ in the form of major industrial economies and the government’s continued reforms. As per the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA), a joint initiative of the UN-Habitat and UNEP, Myanmar is one the fewest countries in the LDCs who take climate change seriously, especially when it comes to adaptation. Climate change is a reality which needs to be addressed urgently and Myanmar is doing relatively well in this regard. To take the issue in an optimistic manner, the country’s economy is expected to accelerate at around 7.7% in 2017 and to 8.0% in 2018, while the current account deficit will widen the imports, growing faster than the exports. The recent government effort in strengthening the legal and regulatory framework has also helped in enhancing the conducive environment for private businesses and investments, which will, in turn, drive further economic growth. Consolidating the country’s legal and regulatory framework is crucial to develop a vibrant private sector and tap Myanmar’s huge growth potential, the report says.

The link between economic opportunity and climate change is something that has to be given immediate attention by the Asian countries, especially Myanmar. The job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by subsiding the global temperature to below 1.5 degrees Celsius is undoubtedly a herculean task but it would result in various opportunities for the international community. According to various reports released by leading media agencies, Asia has already become a leader in clean energy investment, with the lead was taken by China investing humongously in renewable energy. This raises the question of funding for climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. Myanmar is already receiving external assistance from a couple of entities, such as Global Environment Facility, the EU, and bilateral development partners. It is also said that the country will have access to future funding through the Green Climate Fund, which distributes the annual $100 billion contributions made by advanced economies, agreed at COP21 in Paris last year.

The country also offers a plethora of opportunities for investors, stakeholders and private sector involvement. Vast natural gas deposits, innumerable suitable locations for hydropower generation, and unexplored potential for solar and wind power generation are some of the key areas which would definitely attract investment in the coming years. In this regard, Myanmar’s power sector puts forward a plethora of opportunities to both foreign and local investors. According to the government reports, the installation of considerable additional capacity to the current 4,422 MW as well as the rapid construction of transmission lines are national priorities. In order to reach the objective of full national electrification until 2030, the power sector of Myanmar needs to evolve and develop in an efficient manner. The participation of both public and private sector is essential in this regard. It could also be stated that the country needs to build an effective mitigation strategy which involves not only the state but also contributions from the non-state actors, in order to procure finance and maintain coordination, at the time of financial drip.

However, the recent shift in geopolitical trends with the prominence gained by emerging economies, like China, India and Brazil certainly provides a positive push to Myanmar for constructing their economy in a sustainable way.

A Quest Like No Other: Myanmar’s Grand Peace Project

Angshuman Choudhury
Researcher & Coordinator, South East Asia Research Programme,
Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi
angshuman.choudhury@ipcs.org

In her opening remarks at the first 21st Century Panglong Conference held on 31 August – 3 September 2016, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said something that cogently outlines the dicey act of political peacemaking:

Her words ring true across the entire board, irrespective of region, society, or polity. Peacemaking is a participatory exercise that requires real consensus between entities that are inherently or traditionally antagonistic. This makes the process not just a hugely tricky affair, but also a painstaking exercise that warrants the time, patience, and a concrete vision. Yet, the single most pivot of peacemaking is the element of trust, without which any and every political dialogue process is bound to hit a cul-de-sac.

When assessing or critically apprehending Myanmar’s peace process, one must continually recall the history, geography, and the demography of the country;135 ethnic groups, most of which do not have sustainable cultural linkages, sixty painful years of political violence, and a geographical location strategic to big power politics isn’t perhaps the best ingredients for durable peace. But, therein lies the core of the refurbished pursuit of reconciliation: it cannot, and should not, produce ‘sudden peace’, but rather the kind of peace that is well stacked, thoroughly deliberated upon, and made by the people themselves.

NLD’s Peace Machine

When Myanmar began its ambitious peace process back in 2011 under the then President, Mr. Thein Sein, a new chapter in the country’s history began. It was as if someone had pushed the ‘resume’ button after sixty long years of total pause. Since then, the landmark process has only grown in size and scope and is today one of the most complex peacemaking projects in the world. The expansion began right after October 2015 when eight Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA), an instrument drawn up by the Sein administration. With the popularly-elected government of Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw taking charge six months later, national reconciliation became the sine qua non of democratic transition, thus giving fresh impetus to the whole peace process.

The Suu Kyi/Kyaw administration, since taking over, has erected a massive bureaucracy of political dialogue. At the top is the super management body, the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) that is disaggregated into ‘Working Committees’ for different thematic focus areas. The UPDJC oversees the ‘Peace Commission’, the official negotiating body of the government. Another pivotal organ is the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JCM), which is mandated with the responsibility to ensure ceasefires are not breached and complaints related to the same reach the government.

In terms of the dialogue structure, the entire process is bifurcated into two templates: union-level and regional talks. While the former is undertaken through the biannual Union Peace Conference (UPC), also known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), the latter takes place through a triad of NationalLevel Dialogues based on region, ethnicity, and topic. The inputs from these local dialogues are sent to the Working Committees, subsequent to which they are taken up for deliberations at the UPC.

Suu KyiThe unique feature about Myanmar’s post-2015 dialogue process is that it is heavily federal in nature, at least on paper. This is crucial because the ultimate objective of the process of national reconciliation is to achieve a federal union, a vision that emerged right after the country’s independence in 1947 but was truncated by one decade of intense civil strife and sixty more of repressive military rule. More importantly, the union-to-state level disaggregation of the dialogue process is absolutely imperative in a country like Myanmar where there is not one single thread of demography, but rather variegated pockets of ethnic constituencies that carry a strong sense of distinct identity and unique political ambitions for their respective communities. This becomes sharper in certain ethnic quarters that are represented by powerful and heavily-armed EAOs, like the Kachins, Shans, Palaungs, and Mons. Hence, considering local opinion within the process of national reconciliation becomes indispensable for any union-level peacemaker in Burma.

Roadblocks to Peace

As the State Counsellor has stated bluntly, the road to peace is long and hard. The past one year has made it amply clear that national reconciliation is a goal that cannot be achieved through a top-down agenda. Neither can the government claim to have achieved peace through flash in the pan successes. It needs patience, understanding, and most importantly, non-coercive inducement through real political and economic incentives.

The fundamental problem in the dialogue process is structural i.e. the obligation for an EAO to sign the NCA in order to participate in talks with the government. Some EAOs prefer the other way: to participate in the talks first and then sign the NCA. This has led to the emergence of two distinct sets of negotiating parties: signatories and non-signatories. Several commentators in the past have pointed out that the eight EAOs who have signed the NCA are far less influential and powerful than the ones who haven’t signed it. The latter group includes large groups like the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), United Wa State Army (UWSA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K). Hence, unless the government manages to get the latter on board, peace will remain a distant dream.

But, while the dialogue process has been running fairly smooth with the signatories, Naypyidaw’s engagement with the nonsignatories has hit rough waters. Till about May 2017, the government had been negotiating with only one supra-group of non-signatories i.e. the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). However, since early 2017, this 11-member collective of opposition EAOs began to show signs of internal fissure, especially after the November 2016 attacks in the border town of Muse (Shan State) by four EAOs – KIA, TNLA, MNDAA, AA – who identified themselves under a new umbrella body called ‘Northern Alliance (NA)’. Subsequently, in February 2017, the UWSA convened a meeting of eight non-signatory EAOs in the de facto Wa capital of Pangsangh and announced the adoption of a new path for reconciliation, away from the NCA. Three months later, certain members of the Pangsangh collectively decided to remove themselves from the UNFC and follow their own path to peace under the UWSA’s leadership. This has rendered the entire dialogue process much more convoluted and time-consuming.

Moreover, despite the mammoth bureaucracy of political dialogue, the government has been unable to implement the key provisions of NCA in entirety, which has ultimately led to delayed talks and unhappy stakeholders. While the government successfully held national-level dialogues in some regional quarters, it failed to organize them in two crucial states – Rakhine and Shan. The former is represented by the Arakan National Party (ANP) and the latter, in part, by the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), both of which have signed the NCA. This not just resulted in ANP and RCSS questioning the government’s intent, but also a critical three-month delay in hosting the second 21CPC. RCSS/ SSA-S, in addition, has confronted intermittent offensive maneuvers from the Tatmadaw (military) in the past one year, which has spurred a new trust gap between them and the union government.

Another critical lapse in the peace process has been the lack of effective mediators from the government’s side. Several EAOs have repeatedly complained about the dearth of individuals who could suitably communicate their sentiments and demands to both the civilian government and the Tatmadaw. This has led to a regressive communication gap between the core negotiating parties, leading to sporadic ceasefire violations, mismatched agendas, and most importantly, a widening of the trust deficit between key parties. This has also resulted in the intervention of third-party negotiators – like China – who thus have been able to throttle their own vested interests into the dialogue process and gain disproportionate political leverage.

Of all obstructions in the peace process, however, the most visible has been the continued armed conflict in the north between the NA members and the Tatmadaw. Intense and continued fighting has sharpened the trust deficit between Naypyidaw and the northern groups, which are extremely pivotal to any permanent peace arrangement that Myanmar might see in the near future. The violence has also had humanitarian repercussions, with thousands rendered displaced because of the Tatmadaw’s attritional counterinsurgency campaign that focuses on cutting off the economic channels and popular support bases of recalcitrant EAOs.

The military’s relentless offensives in the frontier areas have pushed the local population to question the motives of the union government and any ‘peace’ it might attempt to impose by force. The State Counsellor has tried to address this issue by engaging with community-level stakeholders in the frontier regions, like the Kachin Baptist Organisation (KBO), to regain the lost trust.

The Way Ahead

The Myanmar of today, is by no means, the Myanmar of the dark yesteryears. The new administration, in furtherance of the Sein government, has displayed the immense political will to move towards a permanent negotiated settlement to end the civil conflict for good. The NLD led Parliament’s prioritization of the peace agenda and Suu Kyi’s design to involve a wide range of political actors and stakeholders (including international entities) are the testimony to this. New platforms for dialogue have been created and new mechanisms of political engagement established. These are significant developments for a country that was miles away from national reconciliation just a decade back.

However, much work remains to be done. An elaborate bureaucracy will remain futile, and rather counterproductive, if not backed by capacity-building, institutional training of personnel, and real participatory engagement of all stakeholders. Truth is that every single individual, in her or his own capacity, is a stakeholder in the ongoing peace process. Sixty years of continuous unrest has decisively affected the lives of the entire population. Given the diversity in political imagination and the multiplicity of identities, the union government absolutely cannot afford to keep the talk process centralized.

It has to devolve to the ground, right down to the block-level so that no stakeholder is left out. For this, the government must make sure that the national-level dialogues happen on time and in fact, the state-level dialogue channels are diversified and disaggregated.

The government must also urgently commission specialized interlocutors who have a way with not just the various EAOs, but also the army. In this case, Naypyidaw would do well by recruiting respected individuals with experience of dealing with specific ethnic quarters, like the Kachins or the Mons or the Nagas. This could bridge the trust gap between the government and the frontier populations. More crucially, Naypyidaw must ensure that there is symmetry in the agenda for peace. A dialogue process cannot be accompanied by an offensive counterinsurgency design insofar as the non-state armed groups are not stirring trouble unilaterally. In a situation otherwise, the overall space for reconciliatory dialogue would remain restricted.

Thus, Myanmar still has a long way to go before it can reach any semblance of permanent, durable peace. Having said this, the last one year stands out as a bright ray of hope for the conflict-weary people of the country who now seek constructive development and equal participation in public life, all in a collective attempt to reverse more than half a century of political, economic, social, and cultural regression

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters

Mr. Set Aung Returns to Myanmar Government as Deputy Minister of Planning and Finance

Mr. Set Aung returns to Myanmar Government

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has appointed Mr. Set Aung as the Deputy Minister for National Planning and Finance; inducting him in the Myanmar Government with the essential responsibility of planning for various departments and taking care of the finances when required.

Mr. Set Aung’s role in the previous administration gained primary importance for structuring a well-defined Special Economic Zone (SEZ) which bolstered the business spectrum in Myanmar. His efforts in developing the Thilawa Special Economic Zone were well received and appreciated by experts and the business community, for it facilitated the processing of investment applications, tax filing and other procedures in a freer manner, upholding the investor’s interests.

To seek his expertise and experience in re-energizing the current economic scenario, Mr. Set Aung’s appointment was approved by President U Htin Kyaw as the 2nd Deputy Minister for Planning and Finance, who would be sharing the excessive workload of the Ministry of Planning and Finance, along with Mr. Maung Maung Win.

Mr. Aung Set’s credibility and excellence are reflected in the instrumental portfolios he had been armed with – Economic Advisor to Thein Sein in 2011, Deputy Minister for National Planning and Economic Development, and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar.

First Foreign Company Set to Build Oil and Gas Supply Base in Myanmar

Oil and Gas Supply Base

Singapore‘s MOSB Limited -Myanmar Offshore Supply Base, has been granted authorization to set up an oil and gas supply base, becoming the first overseas company to do so in the Mon State of Myanmar.

Myanmar has welcomed this project with great energy and enthusiasm as it gets approved and endorsed by the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) and the Ministry of Electricity and Energy.

With this arrangement, the oil and gas industry in Myanmar is expected to boom and impact the communities around by furnishing employment opportunities as well as aid in providing infrastructure, health and education facilities. Also, the travel time shall get substantially reduced, thereby, enhancing efficiency and productivity.

The Executive Chairman of MOSB, Mr. Leonard Oh, stated, “The planned offshore supply base would reduce the traveling time for oil and gas companies with Myanmar operations, who would otherwise have to travel to Singapore or Thailand.”

Contributing to the growth and expansion of Myanmar’s economy, MOSB’s efforts and commitment to boosting business shall involve its investment in refining the expansive and widespread infrastructure, transportation and the associated telecommunications.

U Zaw Min Oo, Village Head of Waeka Li Village, Mon State believes, “This will support the local communities by creating a lot of job opportunities, and will most definitely improve our standard of living in many different ways.”

The joint venture between Two Fish Supply Base Limited of Myanmar and 2 Fish (SG) Pte Ltd of Singapore is represented by the MOSB company, engaged in abetting the growth plans of Myanmar.

Myanmar Prioritizes Ten Areas for Investment

Ten Areas for Investment

Liberalization has long awaited the economic gates of Myanmar. With political dynamics steering towards democratization, the economy’s transition from being centrally controlled to a market-oriented one has been a laudable move.

The investment climate has been impacted most favorably, fueling the economic environment around with a sense of excitement, inspiration and unprecedented growth.

To encourage and ease the facilitation of business activities and operations, Myanmar’s new Investment Law got enacted and approved by the cabinet in the beginning of 2017. This law was originally drafted in 2013, with the aid and experience of experts and International Finance Corporation (IFC). It also endows within its ambit the details of the Foreign Investment Law drafted in 2012 and the Citizens Investment Law of 2013

The enactment of the new Investment Law and the entrepreneurial environment has led the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) to prioritize areas for investment by foreign and local businessmen.

These areas include – agriculture, livestock, fishery, export promotion, import substitution, power, logistics, education, health care, affordable housing construction and establishment of the industrial estate.

Myanmar’s untapped economic potential, along with its geographical proximity with major South-East Asian economies, with lowest population densities in the region and an abundance of the vast reservoir of natural resources makes Myanmar’s investment landscape an attractive proposition for the investors.