Tanai IDPs won't return home until Tatmadaw withdraws troops

Over 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Tanai, Kachin State since June say they are too afraid of soldiers to return home. The Tatmadaw maintains an outpost near the IDPs' villages and has refused requests to withdraw troops, according to religious leaders and activists assisting the displaced families.

Religious organizations and officials from the Kachin Peace Network met with Tatmadaw officials on September 8 to discuss the IDPs’ concerns, but they were unable to reach an agreement, according to officials present at the meeting.

“In the end, we went [above them] to meet with the regional commander," said Hkalam Samson, secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention. "The IDPs said they are afraid to return home due to the military outposts. The Tatmadaw said they have no reason to withdraw the military outposts. So we are going to write a letter to the state government to inform them. We are still at this stage. We can’t do anything at the moment. The military knows the answer but they don't accept it."

A volunteer providing assistance to the IDPs said the Tatmadaw has fortified outposts in locations near In Ga Ga Village, the Nambyu stream and along the Nam Phyat stream.

“They are under the Tanai ROC [Regional Operations Command]. We also heard that they have established a stronghold in three areas near Nam Phyat Stream," he said.

Around 1,000 residents from In Ga Ga and Nambyu villages and the surrounding area fled to Tanai after fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) during the first week of June.

“I want to return home. It’s been around three months so there probably won’t be a lot of damage if our cattle are still there and our houses are still in good condition," said an IDP speaking on condition of anonymity. "I’m not happy living here."

The IDPs are living in buildings, community halls and tents supplied by religious organizations.

“The KBC is trying its best to assist us but there is no warmth because it’s not our home and not our bed,” the IDP added.

Another volunteer said the IDPs are facing difficulties in accommodation and food.

“Accommodation is the most difficult issue. The government hasn't officially recognized them as IDPs so we can't build better buildings for the families to live in. The government doesn’t recognize the IDP camp. The second issue is food. They are currently eating food provided by donors and political parties. There isn’t a lot [of donated food],” he said.

Kachin religious leaders, member of the Kachin Peace Network, and volunteers said hey will petition the state government to intervene on behalf of the IDPs soon hey can either return home soon, or have better accommodation in the interim.

Karen diaspora group urges KNU to review its position on the peace process

The Karen diaspora is showing increasing irritation at the Karen National Union’s ceasefire stance.

The International Karen Organization (IKO) issued a statement on September 9 calling for a review of the current peace process in order to achieve a genuine political settlement.

The statement was issued following IKO’s first conference in Melbourne, Australia from September 6 to 8.

The IKO, which has long maintained that signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) was an abuse of the KNU leaders’ authority and compromised the fight for independence, said the agreement has resulted in an increase in Tatmadaw camps inside KNU territory, the involvement of government officials in local administration and the loss of Karen land.

“We have found that the KNU’s position on the ceasefire has deviated,” said Mann Orlando, the spokesperson of the conference organizing committee. “In the past, KNU leaders consistently held the position that the ceasefire [was signed to move on to] political dialogue. Focusing on development after signing the ceasefire [but before political resolution] deviates from the KNU’s fixed position and favors the government.”

In response, the KNU’s general secretary P’doh Saw Tar Doh Moo said, “The peace process is not a flower-strewn path.”

“They should point where we have deviated from [previous KNU’s] leaders,” he said. “We believe we have not deviated. We accept all advice and criticism from Karen communities and individuals. If anyone wants to give us some advice, he or she should try to give it constructively and provide detailed points.”

IKO’s three-day conference in Melbourne brought together 55 representatives from 17 different countries, including the KNU’s former vice chair Naw Zipporah Sein and the former joint secretary, Padoh Mahn Mahn. The meeting was attended by 22 observers and members of civil society organizations along the Thai-Myanmar border.

In its statement following the conference, the IKO called for a fundraising effort to help support Karen refugees and internally displaced people. Both IDP camps and refugee camps across the border are facing funding cuts and mounting pressure for the residents to return home. The IKO urged authorities to stop pressuring IDPs to return home and called for continued international support.

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi scraps UN trip amid Rakhine crisis

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend the United Nations General Assembly later this month, her spokesman said Wednesday, as the Nobel laureate faces a barrage of criticism over her failure to speak up for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Rakhine state in huge numbers.

A crackdown by Myanmar's army, launched in response to Rohingya [..] attacks on August 25, has sent some 370,000 Rohingya refugees across the border to Bangladesh in less than three weeks.

The violence has incubated a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border.

Bangladesh is struggling to provide relief for exhausted and hungry refugees -- some 60 percent of whom are children -- while nearly 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have been displaced inside Myanmar.

Suu Kyi, Myanmar's first civilian leader in decades, does not control the actions of the powerful military, which ran the country for 50 years before allowing free elections in 2015.

Outside of her country Suu Kyi's reputation as a rights defender is in ruins over the Rohingya crisis.

Rights groups have pilloried the former democracy activist for failing to condemn the army campaign, which has left hundreds dead.

Rohingya refugees have told chilling accounts of soldiers firing on civilians and razing entire villages in northern Rakhine state with the help of Buddhist mobs.

The army denies the allegations, while Suu Kyi has also played down such claims instead blaming "a huge iceberg of misinformation" for complicating the conflict.

"The state counsellor won't attend the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly," said government spokesman Zaw Htay, using Suu Kyi's formal title.

The spokesman did not explain the decision but said the country's Vice President Henry Van Thio would attend the summit, which runs through next week.

UNFC and Peace Commission negotiations postponed

Continued peace negotiations between the government and representatives of an ethnic alliance have been delayed, likely until next month, according to an official.

“Both of us are too busy to meet this month. We haven’t been able to negotiate a date yet," said Nai Aung Ma Nge, information officer at the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a bloc representing four ethnic armed groups.

The government's Peace Commission and the UNFC's Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) have been inching closer to an agreement on preconditions ahead of signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).

Ethnic armed groups have come under increased pressure to sign the NCA. No additional groups have joined the pact since the initial eight signed in 2015 under then-President U Thein Sein's administration.

Several members of the UNFC have resigned, including the groups currently engaged in fighting, amid the ongoing NCA negotiations. The bloc started out with 11 members in 2011 and now includes just the New Mon State Party, the Karenni National Progressive Party, the Lahu Democratic Union and the Arakan National Council.

Last month, the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army - South became the latest group to submit its resignation notice. The Kachin Independence Army resigned in April. Both groups are part of the newly created Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee, an alliance of organizations fighting in Shan and Kachin states and led by the United Wa State Army, Myanmar's most powerful ethnic armed group. The FPNCC has demanded an alternative to the NCA.

Nai Aung Ma Nge said the delay to ceasefire negotiations this month was not due to disagreements, but to scheduling conflicts.

An official from the Peace Commission confirmed that both sides are still engaged and trying to fix a date for the meeting.

“The leaders from both sides are still negotiating,” said the official.

The Peace Commission and the DPN held their sixth meeting at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in Yangon last month. According to the UNFC, both sides have agreed on four out of eight precondition terms.

Mon State chief minister says govt is ready to assist Mon national schools

A Mon State MP has called for boosting government support and funding for Mon national schools.

During the September 11 Hluttaw session, MP U Aung Naing Oo said ethnic language classes are not satisfactorily supported at the moment as the schools, which are independently operated outside of the government system, lack the needed infrastructure and teaching materials for lessons in Mon, Kayin and PaO literature.

“I think [the Mon State government] should provide the necessary budget for such as the building and teaching materials from the budget allocated for supporting ethnic people,” said U Aung Naing Oo.

Mon national schools are run by the New Mon State Party’s Mon National Education Committee(MNEC). A handful of “mixed” schools, are co-managed with the government.

Officials from the MNEC said that at the moment, they are scraping by with funds from donors.

The MNEC has requested school funds, school textbooks, stationery, and textbooks for the 2017-2018 academic year, but has only received textbooks, exercise books and school uniforms so far, according to Min Aung Zay, head of the MNEC.

According to the MNEC, there are 133 Mon national schools with over 170,000 students and nearly 800 teachers in the 2017-2018 academic year.

In response to the concerns raised in the State Hluttaw, Mon State Chief Minister U Aye Zan said that his government stands ready to provide assistance to Mon national schools – but advised them to official submit a request for the support they need.

“The Mon national schools should request assistance from the Union Ministry of Education in accord with the law. If the schools request assistance from the state government, we are willing and ready to provide our assistance,” he said.

Skirmish between Tatmadaw and TNLA erupts in Palaung area

Fighting in southern Shan State’s Palaung territory has resumed after nearly a month-long cessation, according to an official from an ethnic armed group engaged in the clashes.

The Tatmadaw and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) reportedly exchanged fire around Kyuakme township on September 11.

“Our troops were on the ridge above Loi Ka Lay Village, Kyaukme township when around 100 soldiers from the Tatmadaw came up to the area and attacked us, so fighting broke out,” said Major Mai Aik Kyaw, the TNLA’s information officer. He said the fighting lasted for around 45 minutes.

The Tatmadaw has not released anything about this skirmish.The TNLA and the Tatmdaw’s 77th Infantry Battalion previously sparred in Namhsan and Namtu townships in early August.

Maj Mai Aik Kyaw said that the Tatmadaw has reinforced its troops in areas where the TNLA also maintains a presence. He said the Tatmadaw has increased its 88th, 77th and 33rd Light Infantry Divisions, as well as two military operations commands, resulting in about 6,000 Tatmadaw troops currently active in Kyaukme, Mogok, Hsipaw, Namhsan, Namtu, Kutkai, Theinni, Muse, and Namkham townships.

“They keep launching military offensives. They carry out regular military activities in our areas and they have expanded their forces. We avoid them, but we couldn’t avoid them [on September 11] so fighting broke out,” he added.

Fighting also flared between the Tatmadaw and the Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army - North (SSPP/SSA-N) in Hsipaw township on September 11.

Both the TNLA and the SSPP/SSA-N are members of the Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee – an association of ethnic armed groups currently fighting in northern Shan and Kachin state that is led by the United Wa State Army. The FPNCC has eschewed the nationwide ceasefire agreement, stating that it will forge its own path to peace.

Security tightened in Myawaddy to quell public fear

Security has been beefed up along the Myanmar-Thai border in response to rumors and scaremongering on social media, according to a member of the Kayin (Karen) State Border Guard Force.

“Public concerns are high due to propaganda and indoctrination. We are providing security to prevent unwanted problems," said Major Naing Maung Zaw, secretary of the Kayin State Border Guard Forces (BGF)’s central command. "The public feel more at ease [now] as they can see us conducting additional security measures."

He said that patrols around Myawaddy have increased since September 9. A 100-member team comprised of the Tatmadaw, the BGF, the police, a people’s militia, religious leaders, members of the public and local administrators have been cooperating to conduct security rounds inside and outside the town, he said.

Maj Naing Maung Zaw urged members of the public to cooperate by not spreading or listening to propaganda. He advised them to inform the authorities if they see anything suspicious.

“Since security has been tightened due to online rumors, the public is not afraid anymore, but they are still being cautious,” said a resident of Myawaddy, who did not want to be named.

Rumors of impending terrorist attacks have been widely circulated on social media since the office of the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief warned on September 5 that commercial and political hubs like Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay and Mawlamyine could be targeted by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group the government has declared an “extremist terrorist” organization.

Ongoing fighting between ARSA and the Tatmadaw has been restricted to northern Rakhine State. Violence flared there after ARSA staged coordinated, lethal attacks against security posts on August 25. Almost 27,000 people have since been evacuated or displaced from the conflict area, according to the government, while more than 300,000 people have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, according to UN estimates.

In the wake of the security warning, Mon State has also reportedly boosted security rounds in order to quell public fear.

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