Many might have thought that, with the ongoing and growing problematic in Rakhine State reaching international height that has caught United Nations attention and global concern, nobody would ever expect that the Military or Tatmadaw would quickly continue and resume with its offensive strategy move, after barely just one month of relative calm in Palaung or Ta’ang area.
Personal reflection and perspective
The fact that I can be considered a public intellectual now is a small wonder. As a Mon child born into a rural family during the Burman chauvinist socialist government, there was a lot conspiring to deny me an education. Yet at nine I was lucky enough to be admitted to the local monastic school where I learned Mon, Burmese, Pali and basic English. I had the privilege to continue learning these languages for many years after.
Writing now from Australia, I feel the difficulty of contributing to national debate with little access to information and few resources in Myanmar. Journalism is without value if does not offer new information or insights to the reader. But I am committed to the task of sharing my thoughts and experiences of the last 25 years of citizen journalism.
I left my rural Mon village in 1984 for the Burman-dominated Irrawaddy delta, where I was to continue my monastic education. I was fifteen when I left and had grown up in a Mon village, surrounded by Mon culture and language. In 1987 I headed to Yangon (then called Rangoon) to continue my monastic education. When in 1988 massive pro-democracy protests shook the country, I went back to my village where, still a monk, I taught Mon. It was only in 1992 that I was able to return to Yangon to get my certificate. I spent a total of ten years reading the leading scholars of the day, almost all of whom were Burman. And although the voices were ethnically narrow, I continue to appreciate what I learned from those thinkers.
After reading the history of Myanmar in Mon, Burmese and English texts for the past 25 years, I have reached the conclusion that freedom of thought and personal liberty always come with a price. In my Yangon years from 1987 to 1994 I continued to read the Burman intellectuals, always aware of the price that so many of them paid. Anyone who didn’t “toe the line” or “dance to the tune,” as the Burmese literature would say, faced intimidation and persecution. The Burman-dominated military government that came to power in a 1962 coup did not tolerate differences of opinion in any publication. The government controlled the press, and with it the national narrative, through a mix of shutting down publications, censoring those that remained and establishing its own propaganda imprints.
Independent presses only survived underground, where intellectuals risked their lives in the name of sharing a liberal political literature. And yet even with the advent of an aboveground independent media in 2010, prominent newspaper editors and journalists continue to be arrested for articles deemed insulting or challenging to those with power. While the laws may have changed, the effect is the same: a culture of intimidation and harassment that precludes honest national conversation. I have deep admiration for the journalists and writers who risk their freedom in the name of liberty and unfettered press, including my friend Ko Lawi Weng of the Irrawaddy, who sits in a Shan State jail cell for his pursuit of the truth.
The culture of censorship that exists in Myanmar is but a continuation of the decades-old instinct towards authoritarianism. In 1988 I was a monk, teaching Mon in the village where I was born. By 1992 I was aware that the local militia official, appointed by the government, had filed a report with the military saying that I was operating an unauthorised Mon language school, and I was not surprised to be summoned for questioning. I was verbally interrogated for three hours by the senior military officer for Mudon Township. I was eventually released, though only, I believe, because I was a monk, I spoke Burmese well and my father, a former village administrator, served as my guarantor. For the military government, something as innocuous as language classes were threatening because they challenged the Burman hegemony that they thought gave their regime legitimacy.
I left for Thailand in 1994, hoping to find liberty and freedom outside of my home country. What followed were years of hardship and isolation as I struggled in a new country. In 1995 I began working as a writer for the Mon News Group in Bangkok. It was empowering to work with the Mon CSOs that were active in Bangkok but I found that the exile community was dominated by Burman activists, who had little patience for Mon or Karen news groups. They wanted to organize all the exile groups under the banner of Burmese students or Burmese democratic alliance, leaving little room for ethnic voices. Even as they fought political tyranny at home, they were blind to the ethnic tyranny that they engendered. I engaged with this Burman-dominated struggle for a few years until 1997, when I migrated to Australia.
Throughout the history of Myanmar, a significant part of the official effort to control the national narrative and suppress dissent was the sidelining of minority ethnic scholars from public life. For half a century, non-Burman professors were denied appointments at public universities or removed from existing posts. While Burman intellectuals were oppressed for their views, non-Burmans were oppressed for their very existence—for who they were. Most non-Burman public intellectuals therefor struggled to live and work without ministerial appointments or positions in university departments. Still, many were able to make their voice heard.
I have never believed that one ethnic group could be assimilated to another by force. But, I have found that the political institutions of Myanmar seem to have been designed to do just that. Journalists and other public intellectuals therefor have a responsibility to continue their work in the new political structures developing in Myanmar, and to confront the institutional mechanisms of forced assimilation. The public discourse will be more dynamic for its diversity, with thousands of individuals contributing richness, rather than one artificial but official narrative.
It is time that the government of the Myanmar, under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledges the role of public intellectuals and foster trust between the rulers and the people.
Freedom of expression is one among many basic rights that must be protected, but the public’s right to know often informs those other basic freedoms. The work—and safety—of public intellectuals is therefore a part of the national interest writ large. Importantly, while it is important that the government stop persecuting intellectuals, it is also important that Burmans of all stripes acknowledge and correct their impulse to sideline and exclude ethnic voices from the national discourse.
Public intellectuals are among the nation’s greatest assets. They should be able to live without fear, so they can continue to do their important work for the peace, progress and the safety of all people of Myanmar.
This article dedicated to my close friend, Irrawaddy journalist Ko Lawi Weng, who was detained in Shan State on Jun 28 of this year. He sits in a jail cell as I write this article.
-- By Mon News Agency (MNA)
Karen News (Karen Information Center - KIC) sat down with P’doh Saw Ar Toe, head of the Karen National Union (KNU)’s Interior and Religious Affairs Department, to talk about preparations for the upcoming ceremony honoring the Karen National Police Force (KNPF). This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: First of all, could you start with an explanation of how the Karen National Police Force (KNPF) was established.
A: The KNPF was established on September 9, 1991. It was founded during the KNU’s 10th Congress, but it wasn’t officially recognized at that time. We designated September 9 KNPF Day during the 16th Congress.
Q: What are the roles and aims of the KNPF?
A: The KNPF has many responsibilities in order to [uphold rule of law].
The aims are rule of law, regional stability and protecting all people. Drug eradication is also one of our aims. Another aspect of their role relates to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). We will carry out the ceasefire by supporting peace and stability.
Q: How will you mark the KNPF Day?
A: The KNPF Day will be marked for the first time with a central-level ceremony on September 9. The KNU’s Interior and Religious Affairs Department will lead this. All seven KNU districts will join together to hold the ceremony. We plan to mark this day in all districts every September starting next year.
Q: Why did you choose Baw Daing in Kawkareik township as the venue for this year’s KNPF Day celebrations?
A: At first, we discussed holding the KNPF Day at the Lay Wah headquarters … [but] our Karen people are widespread in the chosen area. We are holding it there to raise public awareness about the aims and duties of the KNPF.
Q: What arrangements have you made for the KNPF Day?
A: We want to hold a big ceremony. Our police force is an armed force so we have added a military parade the program. But we will hold the military parade without arms in order not to breach the terms of the bilateral rules and regulations between the KNU and the government, and to prevent mistrust growing between each side.
The honorary ceremony we are holding is not to prepare for military warfare. It’s not an expansion of military power. It’s concerned with not only the Karen public, but all people. That’s why we hope that there won’t be any disturbances of our program.
Q: Anything else you want to say to the Karen public about the upcoming honorary ceremony?
A: This ceremony is the first centralized ceremony to honour the KNPF. Public cooperation is needed in order for our police force to carry out its duties. The KNPF’s role is very diverse. It’s impossible for them to carry out their duties without the public’s support. So I want to urge the public to cooperate with our Karen police force.
The Karen community includes both the Karen people living in our country, and those living abroad. It would be great if those who are living abroad could also support our police force by listening to the KNPF’s activities and providing the required assistance.
Our department doesn’t have any funds at the moment. I believe the organization and the public will assist us in holding this ceremony. When we discussed this program at Thone Set Thone Su on August 16, the public and organisations were very active [in the discussion]. I believe the public will support us. And I want to urge the public to continue to support us after the ceremony is held.
Many Karen refugees from camps along the Thai-Myanmar border have been resettled in Sweden since 2005 under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s resettlement program.
KIC News spoke*** with Naw Thida Naing, chair of the Karen Swedish Community, at the end of July about the Karen community there and efforts to preserve Karen culture overseas.
Again, the official sixth meeting between the United Nationalities Federal Council’s (UNFC) Delegation for Political Dialogue (DPN) and the government’s Peace Commission (PC) held from August 10 to 11, wasn’t able to produce an all encompassing agreement for the former to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). But accordingly four from the eight-point UNFC’s proposal to be added to the NCA were tentatively agreed with the rest four points to be still discussed and agreed upon at the forthcoming seventh official meeting that should take place in September.
Today’s informal meeting between Naypyitaw’s Peace Commission delegation and the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) will continue to seek agreement on 4 of the latter’s 8 point proposal, according to Khu Oo Reh, the UNFC’s secretary general and head of the DPN.
“We may say that 4 other points have been agreed in principle,” he says.
The said points are:
Point#1 Joint announcement of nationwide ceasefire
Point#2 Establishment of a Federal Democratic Union
Point#3 Participation in all levels of political dialogues
Point#8 Implementation of development projects in accordance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) procedures
However, 4 other points still need to be discussed for both common understanding and agreement, he adds.
Point#4 Laws including the Union Constitution to be drafted based upon decisions reached at the 21st Century Panglong
Point#5 Prior agreement must be reached on Military Code of Conduct (CoC) and ceasefire monitoring terms of references (ToR)
Point#6 Formation of an independent monitoring committee which shall include international representatives acceptable to both sides
Point#7 Formation of an independent mechanism to facilitate resolutions for disputes
“We are not pressing for acceptance of our demands,” he explains, “only for joint endeavor to reach common agreements on them.”
On 3 March, both sides had declared that “agreement in principle” had been reached on all the 8 points. “But we now have to re-negotiate them again, as the Tatmadaw representatives informed us later that they had not taken part in the agreement on 3 March.”
On the government’s side, (Lt-Gen retired) Khin Zaw Oo said, “It’s time we reached agreement. We’ve been negotiating on the same proposal for 14 months already.”