During a press conference held on the third day of the Panglong Union Peace Conference, it was announced that the ‘Framework for Political Dialogue’ (FPD) will be finalized before the second round of the Union Peace Conference. Speaking on the occasion, Retired Lt-Gen Khin Zaw Oo stated that a common ground is being sought for discussions and in order to achieve that aim the political dialogue framework will be finalized before the next conference. Dr SalaiLian Hmung Sakhong , who was also present at the vent shared that the coalition of seven armed ethnic organizations named United Nationalities Federal Council, which has not yet signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement has presented a paper on its policies to the third-day session of the conference.
The U.S. Government is considering easing sanctions against Myanmar during the time of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit which is scheduled for later this month. This will be her first visit to the United States after her party came in power. Despite democratically held elections in November last year and National League of Democracy coming in power in Myanmar, military still has a lot of power in Myanmar. Mr. Obama will decide on how much to ease the sanctions after consultations between his administration and Ms. Suu Kyi.
The sanctions were originally imposed as a result of Ms. Suu Kyi’s efforts who during her time as a jailed opposition leader was able to convince the Western countries to use them to make the Military Government make way for democracy. Now that she is in power, she is trying to get the citizens of her country to enjoy the economic benefits of a democracy while at the same time pushing the Military for further reforms.
Some of the sanctions were already eased by Mr. Obama previously which includes removal of Myanmar’s state-owned banks from the U.S. blacklist and of measures against seven key state-owned timber and mining firms. How much will Ms. Suu Kyi want U.S. to ease pressure on Myanmar’s military is yet to be seen.
The Nation we know as Burma was first formed during the goldenage of Pagan in the 11th century. King Anawratha ascended the throne in 1044, uniting Burma under his monarchy. His belief in Buddhism lead him to begin building the temples and pagodas for which the city of Pagan (above) is renowned. Pagan became the first capital of a Burmese kingdom that included virtually all of modern Burma. The golden age of pagan reached its peak in during the reign of Anawratha’s successor,Kyanzitta (1084-1113), another devout Buddhist, under whom it aquired the name
” City of four million pagodas “.
Under Colonial Rule
Although Burma was at times divided into independent states, a series of monarchs attempted to establish their absolute rule, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, an expansionist British Government took advantage of Burma’s political instability. After three Anglo-Burmese wars over a period of 60 years, the British completed their colonization of the country in 1886, Burma was immediately annexed as a province of British India, and the British began to permeate the ancient Burmese culture with foreign elements. Burmese customs were often weakened by the imposition of British traditions.
The British also further divided the numerous ethnic minorities by favouring some groups, such as the Karen, for positions in the military and in local rural administrations. During the 1920s, the first protests by Burma’s intelligentsia and Buddhist monks were launched against British rule. By 1935, the Students Union at Rangoon University was at the forefront of what would evolve into an active and powerful movement for national independence. A young law student Aung San, executive-committee member and magazine editor for the Students Union, emerged as the potential new leader of the national movement. In the years that followed, he successfully organized a series of student strikes at the university, gaining the support of the nation.
Independence and Democracy
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Aung San seized the opportunity to bring about Burmese independence. He and 29 others, known as the Thirty Comrades, left Burma to undergo military training in Japan. In 1941, they fought alongside the Japanese who invaded Burma. The Japanese promised Aung San that if the British were defeated, they would grant Burma her freedom. When it became clear that the Japanese would not follow through with their promise, Aung San quickly negotiated an agreement with the British to help them defeat the Japanese.
Hailed as the architect of Burma’s new-found independence by the majority of Burmese, Aung San was able to negotiate an agreement in January 1947 with the British, under which Burma would be granted total independence from Britain. Although a controversial figure to some ethnic minorities, he also had regular meetings with ethnic leaders throughout Burma in an effort to create reconciliation and unity for all Burmese.
As the new leader drafted a constitution with his party’s ministers in July 1947, the course of Burmese history was dramatically and tragically altered. Aung San and members of his newly-formed cabinet were assasinated when an opposition group with machine guns burst into the room. A member of Aung San’s cabinet, U Nu, was delegated to fill the position suddenly left vacant by Aung San’s death. A Burma was finally granted independence on January 4, 1948, at 4:20am – a moment selected most auspicious by an astrologer.
For the next ten years, Burma’s fledging democratic government was continuously challenged by communist and ethnic groups who felt under-represented in the 1948 constitution. Periods of intense civil war destabilized the nation. Although the constitution declared that minority states could be granted some level of independence in ten years, their long-awaited day of autonomy never arrived. As the economy floundered, U Nu was removed from office in 1958 by a caretaker government led by General Ne Win, one of Aung San’s fellow thakins. In order to “restore law and order” to Burma, Ne Win took control of the whole country including the minority states, forcing them to remain under the jurisdiction of the central government. Although he allowed U Nu to be re-elected Prime Minister in 1960, two years later he staged a coup and solidified his position as Burma’s military dictator.
Burma Under a Dictatorship
Ne Win’s new Revolutionary Coucil suspended the constitution and instituted authoritarian military rule. Full attention turned to the military defeat of communist
and ethnic-minority rebel groups. The country was closed off from the outside world as the new despot promoted an isolation ideology based on what he called the Burmese Way to Socialism. Superstitious, xenophobic and ruthless, for the next three decades Ne Win set a thriving nation on a disatrious path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. Outside visitors were few and restricted to Rangoon, Mandalay and a handful of other tightly controlled towns close to the central plains. Insurgency remained endemic and in many areas of Burma armed struggle became a way of life.
The People’s Demands Are Met With Bullets
In July 1988 Ne Win suddenly announced that he was preparing to leave the stage. Seeing at last a possible escape from military rule, economic decline and routine human rights abuses, thousands of people took to the streets of Rangoon.
Thousands of students and democracy advocates fled to the border regions under ethnic control and forged alliances with ethnic resistance movements. Some of these groups include the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the All Burma Student Democratic Front, the Democratic Alliance of Burma, and the longstanding National Democratic Front situated in Manerplaw (the former headquarters of the Karen National Union which fell to SLORC in January 1995). Together these groups formed the National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella organization representing all the groups.A Leader Emerges
It just so happened that during this time of unrest in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, who had been living abroad, returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. Her devotion kept her there and brought her into the political foray. Attempting to quell international condemnation for its violence, the military announced it would hold multi-party elections. Under the persuasion of students and others opposed to the regime, Aung San Suu Kyi and like-minded colleagues founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her party quickly gathered country-wide support. Just when democratic changes seemed imminent Ne Win commandeered the army from behind the scenes to take over the country in a staged “coup”.
On September 18, 1988, control of the country was handed to a 19-member State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and a vicious crackdown followed. Although committed to non-violence, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in July 1989 for “endangering the state” and kept there for the next six years. Desperate to improve their image and generate foreign investment, the SLORC went ahead on May 27, 1990 and held the multi-party elections they had promised. Despite the SLORC’s severe repression against members of opposition parties (Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest) and the complete lack of freedom of expression throughout the country, Suu Kyi’s NLD party swept to victory with 82% of the vote. Surprised and outraged, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the election results and has retained its repressive grip on power ever since.
Eventhough Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May of 2002 the military has refused to relinquish power. The generals have not engaged in any sort of dialogue. The humanitarian situation in Burma is disasterous and civil war still ravages the border areas. The effect of military rule has been a severly impoverished and underdevelopmed nation, Burma has rated as the second least developed nation on the United Nations Development Index. Peace, democracy and the most basic human rights do not exist. Millions have been forced to flee due to military rule and are scattered all over the world longing for the day when they can return to their homeland and be re-united with the families and live in peace.
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Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s newly appointed State Counselor, spoke at the Union Peace Conference for the first time. This event was held on 12 January, 2016 which was after the election results were announced but before she had accepted any position in Myanmar Government. In the past, Ms. Suu Kyi has called this peace conference a sham and openly criticized it. Therefore, her presence at the event and making a speech there was a big surprise to everyone. These talks were attended by the members of parliament, military and some of the armed guerrilla groups.
These groups have been at war with Myanmar Government for the last many years and have caused serious disruptions and damage. Ms. Suu Kyi’s presence and speech at the event has provided a big boost to the chances of the talks being successful which can bring about a much needed long term peace in country. Ms. Suu Kyi was against these talks earlier because she doubted the intentions of the army. She was of the opinion that these talks and even the ceasefire agreement reached between some rebel groups and Myanmar Governments earlier are both meaningless and just a show-off ploy to project false image to the people.
Showing up at the peace conference and speaking there shows that Ms. Suu Kyi has now changed her opinion on the matter. Her making this gesture after her party wining the elections comfortably and ready to form the new Government shows that she is willing to cooperate and work harmoniously with the previous Government leaders and the army towards the betterment of Myanmar. Her involvement may also help to persuade the other rebel groups who have been so far resisting the peace process to lay down their arms and enter negotiations with the Government.
Aung San Suu Kyi has openly criticized The Union Peace Conference in the past and therefore no one expected her to be present on the occasion. However, she surprised everyone by suddenly appearing at the event and even making a speech there. These talks were attended by the military, members of parliament, and some of the armed guerrilla groups that are with war with Myanmar government. Ms. Suu Kyi’s presence and speech at the event would surely provide a big boost to the chances of the talks being successful which can bring about a much needed long term peace in country. Even though Ms. Suu Kyi is banned from becoming the president of Myanmar as per the country’s current laws, she has still made it clear that she intends to lead the country through her party National League for Democracy which scored a landslide victory in the recently held Myanmar elections.
The Union Peace Conference was held in Naypyidaw on 12th January, 2016. Aung San Suu Kyi’s initial objection to the event was linked to her disbelief in the intentions of the army. She had dismissed the ceasefire agreement reached last year between the army and some of the armed rebel groups as a pre-election stunt. However, her now showing up at the peace talks and participating in it shows that she is willing to work harmoniously with the previous government leaders and the army towards the betterment of Myanmar. Her involvement may also help to persuade the other rebel groups who have been so far resisting the peace process to lay down their arms and enter negotiations with the government.
Aung San Su Kyi is a legend in her own right. The numerous awards and recognitions that have been bestowed on her are a proof of her greatness. She received the biggest award that any humanitarian can receive, the Nobel Peace Prize, in the year 1991. Besides that she has been awarded the Rafto Prize, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Wallenberg Medal, Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding from the Government of India, International Simón Bolívar Prize from the Government of Venezuela, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Award for Democracy from the Government of Pakistan, and Congressional Gold Medal from the Government of the United States. Her life story is filled with numerous struggles and countless sacrifices that she selflessly and courageously made in order to make life better for millions of Myanmar citizens.
Aung San Su Kyi was born in Yangon (now Rangoon) on 19 June, 1945. Her father Aung San was the founder of the Burmese Army and he was the one who negotiated with the British Empire and got Myanmar its independence. Unfortunately, he was assassinated by his rivals in the very same year. Aung San Su Kyi and her two brothers were brought up by their mother Khin Kyi. Another tragedy struck the family when one of her brothers Aung San Lin died at the age of eight. Her second brother Aung San Oo emigrated to San Diego, California and became a United States citizen. Soon after Aung San Lin’s death, Aung San Su Kyi’s family moved to a house by Inya Lake and here her mother grew prominent as a political figure. Khin Kyi was posted in India and Nepal as Myanmar’s Ambassador and Aung San Suu Kyi lived there along with her. She also completed most of her schooling and college studies in India.
For her higher studies Aung San Su Kyi went to England and studies at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. After getting a M.A degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics she moved to New York U.S.A. She worked at the United Nations for three years and in 1972 she married Dr. Michael Aris who was a scholar of Tibetan culture and lived in Bhutan. She gave birth to two children Alexander Aris and Kim. Suu Kyi further worked to obtain an M.Phil degree in Burmese literature as a research student at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She went on to be elected as an Honorary Fellow of SOAS in 1990 and for two years she was also a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Shimla, India. She also had the honor of working for the government of the Union of Burma for some time.
In order to attend to her ailing mother, Su Kyi returned to Myanmar in 1988. However, during this visit she got deeply touched by the plight of the Myanmar citizens and went on to lead the pro-democracy movement in order to change things for better. She remained in Myanmar to continue her fight while her husband was denied entry visas thus making it impossible for them to meet. Most of the time of her struggle for democracy was spent under house arrest which was only lifted in 2010. In 1997 Aung San Su Kyi faced one of the biggest dilemmas of her life when her husband Mr. Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer which was found to be fatal. Myanmar government still refused to allow him to enter the country and Su Kyi didn’t want to leave as she feared she wouldn’t be allowed to enter the country again if she left. Michael Aris died on his 53rd birthday on 27 March 1999.
National League for Democracy (NLD) was formed in 1988 under the leadership of Aung San Su Kyi. The party was very popular among the people of Myanmar and it won a significant parliamentary majority in the elections that took place in 1990. Many people believe that Aung San Suu Kyi would have assumed the office of Prime Minister after winning these elections but she was not permitted to stand as a candidate. Eventually, the ruling Military government even refused to acknowledge the election results. Later, NLD refused to register for the elections which were to take place in November 2010 as a protest against many of its members being barred from standing in the elections. Due to this reason, the military junta declared the party illegal and ordered for it to be disbanded. In 2011, Su Kyi engaged in Discussions with the Myanmar Government which went well and they agreed to take measures to meet many of her demands. Two of the most significant outcomes of these talks were the legalization of trade unions and freedom of lot of Myanmar’s political prisoners.
In November 2011, NLD announced its intention to re-register as a political party. Under the leadership of Aung San Su Kyi, the party believes in appealing for pro-democracy in a nonviolent way. Now that Myanmar is gearing up for 2015 elections to be held in November, NLD is expected to fare really well and win the majority of the seats. Even if NLD wins the election, Aung San Su Kyi might not be eligible to become the president as there is a law forbidding anyone with a foreign spouse to hold that post. However, she still can play a very important role by acting as a leader and a guide for both NLD and the people of Myanmar.
A 12 member delegation from Myanmar led by Chief Minister of Sagaing Region H.E. U Thar Aye and Chief Minister of Kachin State H.E. U Lajon Ngan Sai visited the North Eastern Region of India between the 30th November to 7th December, 2014. Aimed at boosting inter-regional cooperation in Tourism, Education, Transportation & Culture, the visit was yet another milestone in furthering relations between the bordering States of India and Myanmar which will go a long way in establishing greater people-to-people contact, opening new avenues of trade and cultural exchanges thereby bringing peace and co-prosperity to the entire region. The visits of Chief Ministers from the bordering States of Myanmar to the North East India will provide impetus to the further expansion and deepening of India-Myanmar relations.
HORNBILL FESTIVAL IN NAGALAND
The visiting Chief Ministers from Myanmar were warmly welcomed by the Nagaland Chief Minister at the inauguration of Hornbill Festival, an annual cultural festival of Nagaland, India on 1st December, 2014. The Festival was inaugurated by Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi. Also present on the occasion were Governor of Nagaland and Ambassador of India to Myanmar H.E. Gautam Mukhopadhaya. On 2nd December, the two Chief Ministers of Sagaing and Kachin were the guest of honour at the festival of Kisama village and were also Chief Guests of Kigwema village stone pulling ceremony.
EDUCATION & CONSERVATION IN ASSAM
The Delegation arrived in Guwahati on the 3rd of December where they attended the Business Discussion Session organized by FICCI North East. The theme of the session was on developing business and connectivity opportunities between the North East & Myanmar.
From Guwahati the Delegation moved to the Sonitpur District, where on the way they visited the APPL owned Kellyden Tea Estate and Misa Golf Club. The main purpose of the Delegations trip to Sonitpur was to visit two of the premier Educational Institutions in the region- Tezpur University and Assam Valley School. Besides visiting the campuses of both institutions, the Chief Ministers had open interaction session with faculties and students. The Assam-leg of the Tour was organized and facilitated by the Balipara Foundation and also included a tour of the Balipara Foundation Conservation Center. The Chief Ministers were presented with the Report from the recently concluded International Conference on Asian Elephants, which had strong participation from Myanmar. Furthermore a copy of the recently published book “Reflections on Managing Water” was also handed over.
CONFERENCE & SEMINAR IN MEGHALAYA
The two Chief Ministers then traveled to Shillong, Meghalaya State to attend a two day Conference/Seminar on India’s North Eastern States and Eastern Neighbours: Engaging for Connectivity, Culture and Prosperity in Shillong on 5th and 6th December, 2014. The Seminar was organized by the Asian Confluence, Divya Jeevan Foundation in collaboration with Indian Council for World Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs. The Seminar was organized to address the complex and sensitive issues relating to the tremendous role that the civil society can and should play in the development of North Eastern part of India and as India’s land connectivity corridor to the greater economy of the South East and East Asia.
SUMMARY OF INTERACTIONS
1. What is the strategic importance of India, especially the North East, for Myanmar and viceversa?
The NER connects India to Myanmar and Myanmar connects India to South East Asia. Therefore the strategic importance of both countries to each other is quite obvious. The NER is the geographical gateway through which any meaningful and long-term cooperation will be built around.
2. Does China’s powerful economic presence in Myanmar effect the establishment of Indian companies in the country?
There is ample scope to develop India’s economic and other ties with Myanmar. A number of projects have been commenced, the most important of which – the Kaladan Multi-Modal transport project, which will connect Calcutta with Sittwe port, and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway – are still ongoing. Infrastructure at border posts like Moreh-Tamu, which is in dire need of repair, and the bus service between Imphal and Mandalay are still on the drawing board. Indian companies such as Essar, GAIL, and ONGC Videsh Ltd. have invested in Myanmar’s energy sector. Tata Motors has set up a heavy turbo-truck assembly plant. Myanmar imports only three per cent of
its total imports from India and there is substantial scope for India to diversify the trade basket.
3. Is Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to Myanmar a positive step towards Indo – Myanmar investment opportunities and how?
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Myanmarese President Thein Sein met at Nay Pyi Taw, the big focus of discussions was improving connectivity between what they called “brother countries.” The Modi government brings in a renewed push to India’s Look East policy with an “Act East” policy. Needless to say, greater trade and commerce, tourism, people-to-people contacts depend on improved and easy connectivity.
4. What could be Myanmar’s role in bolstering India’s Look East Policy?
As Myanmar opens up to the outside world, India can aid it immensely in nurturing its nascent democracy. Following up on the many recent diplomatic visits, the two neighbours have a historic opportunity to come close to each other once again and transform their bilateral relations. Myanmar is rich in natural resources, and consistent and long-standing cooperation with India will help it develop its true potential. For India, cooperation with Myanmar will help transform the North-East, bolster its LEP, and help it emerge as a major Asian power.
The Indian Ambassador to Myanmar, H.E. Gautam Mukhopadhyay, is a busy man. That said, I was able to catch him for an interview at his residence in Yangon on the eve of another round of hectic travel within Myanmar and North East India.
Gautam is the 21stAmbassador of India to Myanmar and a man with a colourful and highly successful career behind him. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1980 and has served in various capacities in Indian Embassies in Mexico, France, Cuba, Afghanistan and Syria, the Permanent Mission of India in New York, and in the Ministries of External Affairs and Defence in India. He was India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013 and has been serving as India’s Ambassador to Myanmar for the past 18 months.
He enters the high ceilinged drawing room within his Yangon home with more than a spring in his step. There is a strong and distinctive sense that he’s a man with a mission and he’s keen to share it with me. I’m meeting with him to discuss the subject of trade and trade corridor initiatives now firmly in motion between the Government of India and Government of Myanmar. These trade ‘corridors’ are also the new buzz word. Tea is served and without further ado I’m asking what are some of the key economic and political initiatives now currently under discussion between India and Myanmar in particular respect to the new international trade relationships with the North East of India.
“There are a number of initiatives on the Trade front, development front and investment front. On the trade front the Trilateral highway and upgrading the road from Moreh in Manipur to mae sot in Thailand via mandalay in Myanmar is being upgraded – which includes upgrading 71 bridges on that road. This is all key in terms of trade and connectivity. We’re also in a state of advanced thinking about a number of other investment measures.”
I ask him about what sort of investment measures. “These are private investments that will follow the logic of the economy. In Myanmar they are trying to move towards a market economy. Alot of the state economy has been privatized – so we’re looking mostly at private partnerships.The Government of Myanmar has put out tenders and we expect that our Indian companies will bid successfully.”
I’m keen to ask what economic pledges he is seeking between the two countries. “The Government of Myanmar is opening up and looking for international partnerships. In the last 3 months I would say that we have noticed a really substantial surge of interest in Indian business with Myanmar and this has been manifested in a number of trade and investment exhibitions and a number of very serious and good business delegations. We are already beginning to see the first signs of Myanmar business taking interest in India. For example, there’s an upcoming N.E connectivity event in Guwahati, there’ll be a CII (Check spelling) meeting in Jaipur in January where we hope to get a good presence from Myanmar for this and what we are trying for is if Myanmar will actually hold an investment roadshow on this occasion and which will focus attention on Myanmar as an investment destination. So what political and economic co-operation pledges is he seeking be twe en Indi a and Myanmar for the Trade corridor initiatives? “ This plan would extend the existing Friendship Road border point at Moreh (Manipur) with Myanmar, and connect two more border towns, Zokhathar in Mizoram and Avakhung in Nagaland – again with Myanmar. The corridor’s success will depend on thriving industrial activity being developed around it – not just big private players feeding off the region’s lucrative natural resource base, but more specifically small and medium value-added businesses”.
India’s new Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party has vowed to increase its influence across Asia and the Far East – and in particular to challenge China’s economic dominance. So how high are the stakes and given China’s historic economic and political influence over several decades in Myanmar, I ask him how challenging does he personally see this for India ?
“I’m not so sure I would characterize the new Government’s mission in the way you have and that we are out to challenge China in any way”, he argues. “I think the PM and the new government’s focus is very much on the development of India. And the focus is on what India and the world can do for that development. Today, for example in Myanmar, Indian products have a good reputation in terms of quality but they are nor seen as cheap or as competitive as Chinese. But, I think we can brand ourselves with these five things: high technology, cost, quality, service and reliability.”
But given this I ask, what incentives and inducements is India offering the government of Myanmar to increase greater co-operation between the two countries?
“I’m not so sure we are using inducement”, he smiles. “We have a development partnership department in our Foreign Ministry. The word is very carefully chosen. We don’t see ourselves as donors, we don’t see our partnerships as assistance in that sense of the term; what we see it as being is a partnership for mutual benefit. Now in the context of that partnership, very few people know that our financial commitment to Myanmar, if we were to accumulate and or value it, its worth close to a total of US$ 2 billion and this if I’m not wrong, compares very favorably with the most generous of the industrialized and advanced economies. Out of this amount a large component goes on this connectivity project which is for our mutual benefit. If we connect the State of Mizoram and Rakhine State to Sitwe, they benefit Rakhine State and they also benefit us. The second is that around US$ 750 million is in terms of very concessional lines of credit that we give to the Myanmar government according to its development priority. One can see the economic benefits that India stands to gain from a trading corridor between the N.E of India and Myanmar – but how will Myanmar itself tangibly benefit from such closer ties? I ask him what are the actual discussions going on right now on this and am keen for him to give me a flavor and some substance on what’s been agreed in terms of the North-east initiative.
“The single biggest thing that needs to be done”, he says, “ is that we’re in the process of trying to upgrade the border trade infrastructure at Moreh which is the most active border crossing point. We are setting up something there called the Integrated Checkpoint – to facilitate trade from both sides such as warehouses, faster customs; we are also talking about opening up what we call ‘Border Hearts’ which are border markets, where people on both sides can trade with each other.
So what can we expect to see next year in the way of tangible results? “To establish the region as a biodiversity zone, cooperation between the authorities and stakeholders in N.E India, Myanmar, and Bhutan will be of paramount importance.
My allotted time for our interview is fast drawing to a close but I have one more question I’m more than curious to ask. “So, how do we understand what Myanmar has to give to the world”? The Ambassador sits forward. “I think this is a really important question that generally is ignored. Since I’ve been here in Myanmar its something I’ve very much felt. First, because of their insulation, they have preserved their culture, their traditions and their values particularly their deep devotion to Buddhism. Also, if you look at the status of women in Myanmar its possible among the most equal, gender equal societies in the world. Gandhi noticed this when he came here in 1921 and he recorded that Myanmar women enjoy a really good status and that India could learn from that. And Peace – having come from Syria and Afghanistan where I’ve been, I very much value law and order and the peace that you have here in Myanmar. Even when you travel to some of the areas affected by ethnic armed insurgency, its a fairly disciplined war -its not terrorism that you see in many parts of the world. Even as regards tourism – there is a lot that India can learn from Myanmar and we not just as India but we as the world.
Treat it as it is and with the respect that it deserves”.
Having just visited Myanmar for the first time myself, I can empathize with these sentiments as this country is undoubtedly emerging from a dark and distressing past to a new political and economic dawn.
Notwithstanding the political differences between the two countries, there is no doubting the Ambassador’s passion and commitment to bringing his country and theGovernment of Myanmar closer together. Increasing trade ties between these two countries is the hot topic and the North-Eastern corridor initiatives now underway look set to prove a serious game-changer in this regard.
– Mr. Nicholas Claxton, Advisor to Myanmar Matters
Win Tin (12 March 1930 – 21 April 2014) was a Burmese journalist, politician and political prisoner. He co-founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). He was imprisoned by the military government for 19 years (1989–2008) for his writings and his leadership position in the NLD. He served as the editor-in-chief of Kyemon (The Mirror), one of Burma’s most popular newspapers at that time after it was nationalized and original founder, U Thaung, was imprisoned in 1964. In 1969, he was appointed as editor-in-chief of a State owned new daily newspaper, the Hanthawaddy Daily in Mandalay by Ne Win’s military government. It became a successful one within a few years. But thanks to his unwillingness to compromise his editorial independence and his proclivity to run stories criticizing the regime, the paper was shut down and he was dismissed in 1978.He wrote Search for beauty under the pen name Paw Thit. Translations of Northern Light and Queed were his well- known works. He also wrote books on his tours in communist countries. His autobiography, “What is the Human Hell”, was published in 2010 and described in detail of inhuman torturing and interrogation practices in prison Win Tin served a 20-year sentence on charges including “anti-government propaganda.” He had tried to inform the United Nations of ongoing human rights violations in Burmese prisons.In 2001, Win Tin was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for his efforts to defend and promote the right to freedom of expression. That year, he was also awarded the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award. From 2006 onward, he could not receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
At 81, he was in a poor state of health, exacerbated by his treatment in prison, which included torture, inadequate access to medical treatment, being held in a cell designed for military dogs, without bedding, and being deprived of food and water for long periods of time. D Wave, NLD official periodical, was started in prison by his hand writing.He was freed on 23 September 2008, after serving 19 years in prison. After his release from prison Win Tin made efforts to re-organize the NLD. He re- launched the weekly meetings of the party’s Central Executive Committee which had been irregularly held since 2003. He also resumed a regular roundtable called “Youth and Future” which Aung San SuuKyi had participated in the past. Win Tin visited families of political prisoners to offer moral support.
According to The Economist, he viewed Aung San SuuKyi as being “too soft and much too pro-establishment,” someone who “negotiated with the generals, where he never would, and was revered by party members in a way which he thought was bad for democracy. He set up U Win Tin Foundation to help former political prisoners and their families including scholarships for university education in 2012. Most of the awarded money was used for that purpose.“U Win Tin was the exemplar of dignified courage and principle against decades of brutal military rule,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director. “Human Rights Watch campaigned for his release for many years. We are deeply saddened by his death – an irreplaceable loss for Burma’s human rights community.”U Win Tin was a leader to future generations in Burma, encouraging younger activists and journalists to stand up to misrule and corruption, and to promote basic freedoms of assembly and free expression. He convened an NLD youth group to promote greater inclusion of younger activists into politics. He also helped former political prisoners reintegrate into the Burmese community, and financially assisted, within his small means, their families, who the authorities had also victimized for many years.