SNLD MP questions government’s silence on constitutional amendment

June 13, by Yain Tai

A Shan politician is questioning why the National League for Democracy has fallen silent on constitutional amendment. As an opposition party, the NLD led the campaign to change the 2008, military-drafted charter.

Shan State Hluttaw MP Sai Linn Myat raised the issue during a recent meeting between Shan State parliamentarians and the Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker in Taunggyi’s City Hall.

“[The Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker] said the 2008 Constitution will only be amended after we achieve peace. In my opinion, the 2008 Constitution is the only reason why we can’t achieve peace,” Sai Linn Myat, a politician from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, told the media following the June 10 meeting.

“I think we need to consider whether the 2008 Constitution is an obstacle to the emergence of a democratic federal Union, which is desired by the public.”

During the meeting, Speaker U Win Myint urged MPs to ensure the questions and proposal they submit to parliament are in line with the derided 2008 Constitution.

“We didn’t say that we won’t amend it, but we also didn’t say that we would amend it immediately after we won [the election],” he said, when pressed about the NLD’s timeline for redrafting the charter.

“Internal peace is our second priority [after rule of law], and constitutional amendment is our third priority. We understand that it can only be amended after we have secured mutual understanding and trust. We can’t amend it as soon as we’d like due to restrictions stipulated in Section 435 (a) and (b) of Chapter 12 in the 2008 Constitution,” he added, referring to a section that calls for constitutional amendments to be submitted to the hluttaw and approved only if it secures more than 75% of the vote. The military’s guaranteed 25% parliamentary bloc ensures veto power.

In 2014, then-opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that without constitutional amendment, Myanmar’s democratic transition is only “window-dressing”. Later that same year, the NLD launched a petition calling for changes to section 436, the clause empowering a military a veto, and section 59(f), which bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from holding the presidential office. More than 5 million signatures were gathered and submitted to parliament. The motion stirred public support, but did little to change the charter.

At a press conference called one year ago, Speaker U Win Myint indicated that the constitutional reform would take a backseat while the administration worked on peace and reconciliation.

UN probe would inflame tensions: Suu Kyi

A United Nations probe into alleged human rights abuses by Myanmar's military against the minority Rohingya people last year would inflame ethnic tensions, Aung San Suu Kyi said Monday, according to a Reuters report.

Rakhine land dispute continues as farmers demand fair compensation

Over two dozen Sittwe farmers have rejected compensation offered for their confiscated farmland, demanding either payment at market value, or the restitution of their plots.

The land dispute dates back 25 years, when the farmers say their 160 acres in Set Yoe Kya Ward near the Rakhine State capital was illegally seized by government officials for an intended industrial zone.

As the zone failed to materialize, the farmers continued to plant crops on the disputed turf until March 2015, when they said fences were erected.

Last year, U Kyaw Lwin, Rakhine State’s minister for mining, agriculture and livestock, told the Irrawaddy that just before the end of former president U Thein Sein’s administration, he transferred the contested land, allotting the property for residential quarters.

The explanation was hardly satisfactory to the farmers, who continued to demand fair back pay for the land now occupied by buildings, and return of the vacant plots.

On May 15 this year, the farmers staged a protest in Sittwe, after which the Kyay Taw Village administrator summoned them to discuss the issue. The official reportedly offered the farmers K3 million per acre.

After mulling the proposal, the farmers declined the offered compensation, and staged another protest on June 9.

“We have seen that the state government has a good-will towards the farmers, but the market value of the land around the industrial zone in Set Yoe Kya Ward is around K150 million per acre,” said U Yan Myo Aung, a local farmer.

“We have been officially working on this farmland since the days of our great-grandparents. The land was seized in 1992-1993 to build an industrial zone,” he added. “We are happy if the government wants to build buildings and do business on the land to develop our country’s economy. But no industries have been established there and only houses are have been built.”

The farmers submitted a letter of appeal to Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu on April 20. Farmers said they have been given verbal instructions to fence off any property they can prove their ownership of, but they said such a move has only escalated the disputes, in some cases leading to threats on their life.

“The government is unable to resolve the indirect sale of farmland that was seized for the industrial zone due to corruption,” U Yan Myo Aung added.

A total of 27 farmers have staked a claim over the contested parcel of 160 acres.

More protests in Rakhine over citizenship verification cards

Rakhine nationalists staged a protest last week against the government’s ongoing citizenship review process and recent allotment of national verification cards to residents of the state.

Around 500 people gathered at the Aye Zedi Monastery in Buthidaung township in the afternoon of June 9 to demonstrate against resumption of citizenship scrutiny, which they claim has not been conducted lawfully. The protesters marched through the Muslim-majority township to the Department of Immigration and Population in order to lodge their complaint. The protesters said the verification cards are not in line with the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law.

Human rights groups have criticized the 1982 law, which was instituted by the junta, for ensuring a sclerotic interpretation of citizenship that deprives some minorities, such as Rohingya, of statehood. Human Rights Watch and the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar have repeatedly called for the law to be appealed or amended to meet international standards.

The protesters called for the government to stop issuing national verification cards to “Bengalis”, a term widely used to refer to the Muslim population in the state who self-identify as Rohingya. The protesters also urged the existing Citizenship Scrutiny Committee to resign.

“Citizenship is being granted without proper scrutiny in line with the law,” said U Maung Win Naing, one of the protest leaders.

More than one million people in Rakhine State – mostly Muslim Kaman and Rohingya – are stateless, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A pilot project was started in 2014 to review citizenship applications through a process that included granting so-called national verification cards to those whose eligibility for citizenship would be scrutinized under the 1982 Citizenship Law at a later stage in the process. The program was suspended amid protests, and the cards were revoked. The National League for Democracy-led government announced last year that a citizenship verification pilot would resume, again prompting backlash from the ethnic Rakhine community.

National verification cards and naturalized citizen cards have reportedly been issued to over 30 residents in Buthidaung township in February this year.

Thousands of Kachin civilians remain trapped amid escalation of fighting

Thousands of civilians remain trapped after attempting to flee their homes amid clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army around Tanai township.

Over 4,000 civilians are currently stuck in Deik Hpar (Daihpa) Village near Ledo road after the Tatmadaw reportedly blocked their exit. Civilians had initially attempted to escape to Tanai town via waterways and roads, but finding those avenues blocked, some took recourse through smuggling routes.

About 1,000 displaced persons are currently taking shelter in Tanai town where authorities have reportedly barred IDP camps from opening. Instead, the families have sought shelter in churches. However, authorities ordered IDPs to relocate to Kawng Ra Village, a sort of no man’s land between the fighting.

A mother and two children were reportedly injured when artillery hit Nawng Lon Kawng Ra Village around 12:30 am on June 5. Local residents fled to Ting Kawk and Tanai after the village was shelled.

“They [the Tatmadaw] have blocked the direct road used to flee to Tanai. The military officials are driving IDPs away from Tanai. I see this as a clear attempt to cause trouble for the Kachin people,” said Reverend Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).

An official from Tanai Baptist Church said many civilians continue to be trapped near the skirmish area.

“There are still many people who have been unable to flee. Even the members of Sut Chyai Mine Area Church from Sambra, Oi Law, and N’grau Hkrat villages haven’t been able to come out yet. There are still many people from the amber mines who are unable to leave. The people who have arrived in Tanai were only able to leave via smuggling routes,” said the official.

Fighting escalated around the gold and amber mines starting on June 3.

Two days after the fighting broke out, an eviction notice was airdropped, instructing civilians to leave the area before June 15 or face the consequences of being considered allies of the KIA. But when civilians tried to follow the instructions, they found the only exit road blocked.

Food prices increase in Maungdaw

Food prices are reportedly soaring in Maungdaw township, where locals said that ingredients commonly used to break Ramadan fast are being sold at marked up rates.

Myanmar pardons, repatriates 33 Bangladeshis

Myanmar has granted a presidential pardon to 33 Bangladeshi nationals who were jailed on separate occasions for illegally entering the country. According to a statement from the Bangladesh Embassy in Yangon, President U Htin Kyaw gave the executive order on May 25 after the embassy made several requests for their citizens’ release.

KIC News celebrates its 20th anniversary with roundtable talks

Marking its 20th anniversary, the Karen Information Center (KIC) News held a media roundtable discussion about the future of media in Myanmar on June 8.

“We wanted to inform our friends about the 20th anniversary of our organization and also to use the occasion to invite the government and social organizations to share advice about the media industry,” said Nan Paw Gay, KIC News’ director.

Around 80 people attended the ceremony at Thiri Hpa-an Hotel in Kayin (Karen) State’s capital. Representative from the state government, the Karen National Union, media groups and civil society organizations participated in the talks which touched on press freedom issues, and the role of ethnic media in Myanmar’s media landscape.

KIC News was established in 1997 to promote awareness about issues and human rights within the Karen community. Since 2014, it has published a Karen language newspaper, K’nyaw Takasaw, and a Burmese language version, Kayin Thadin Sin. KIC news also runs a website, an online radio program and a television program.

Translated by Thida Linn
Edited by Laignee Barron

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