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Newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma
January 8 - 27, 2005










National Convention or National Referendum 


Dear Readers,

We invite comments and suggestions on improvements to Kaowao newsletter. With your help, we hope that Kaowao News will continue to grow to serve better the needs of those seeking social justice in Burma . And we hope that it will become an important forum for discussion and debate and help readers to keep abreast of issues and news.  We reserve the right to edit and reject articles without prior notification. You can use a pseudonym but we encourage you to include your full name and address.



On Hre Mang’s “The Politics of Recognition”

My sincere appreciation to Ko Hre Mang’s articles "The Politics of Recognition." A number of crucial and the icebergs of Burmese political reality have been spelled out. Not that we are intermingling with the unwarranted divisive forces of political parochialism, however, identity issues has to be dealt with by all political leaders of present and future Burma.

It is undeniably correct that the Burmans constitute the larger chunk of the country's population. The future constitution of the Union of Burma should guarantee the rights and privileges of minority ethnic groups. Although the discussion of this historical issue might seem premature among the exile community, it should not be left untouched.

Both the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) have acknowledged the importance of multi-ethnic spectrum of the country. In similar response, the Burmese intellectual community and other concerned partners should also heed the demands to eradicate decades' old political upheaval in the country.

Distribution of opportunities and sharing of responsibilities are some of the essential factors of the so called "Union of Burma." The nomination of Alberto Gonzales, U.S. Attorney General from an extremely poor immigrant family, to one of the topmost hierarchies of the Bush administration can be cited in this regard. Inclusive invitation and participation of capable and competent individuals, regardless of ethnic   backgrounds, will inculcate the minds of the diverse ethnic population of Burma .

Appreciate your time in going through the lines.


Nehginpao (Papao)

Hre Mang's insightful article should be given a more in-depth discussion and hopefully, Burman, non-Burman academics and interested individuals will pitch in.


The question I wanted to raise here is that of "cross-cutting social identities" or "multi-layered identities". Somewhere in his article, I believe, Hre Mang has touched this. For example, most Burman and non-Burman oppositions refer to themselves as "democratic opposition" and this is, in a way, one label of the many identities we all share in common. Perhaps, this democratic opposition label will bring all of us near to each other and work out acceptable solutions for all to benefit.

Below, a few paragraphs to instill the debate.

Sai Wansai


In a complex social structure characterized by cross-cutting category distinctions a single person may be attached to one in-group by virtue of ethnic heritage, to another by religion, to yet another based on occupation, or region of residence, and so forth. With this profusion of social identities, other individuals will be fellow in-group members on one category distinction but out groupers on another. Such cross-cutting ingroup-outgroup distinctions reduce the intensity of the individual's dependence on any particular in-group for meeting psychological needs for inclusion, thereby reducing the potential for
polarizing loyalties along any single cleavage or group distinction and perhaps increasing tolerance for out groups in general.

This insight that a complex, cross-cutting pattern of social differentiation increases social stability and tolerance has been independently generated by anthropologists (e.g., Gluckman, 1955; Murphy, 1957), sociologists (e.g., Coser, 1956), and political scientists (e.g., Almond & Verba, 1963; Lipset, 1959, 1960). Coser (1956) hypothesized, for instance:

In flexible social structures, multiple conflicts crisscross each other and thereby prevent basic cleavages along one axis. The multiple group affiliations of individuals makes them participate in various group conflicts so that their total personalities are not involved in any single one of them. Thus segmental participation in a multiplicity of conflicts constitutes a balancing mechanism within the structure. (pp. 153-154)


(Kaowao: January 27, 2005)

The death toll of Mon migrant workers is unknown with sources believing that hundreds of Mon migrant workers have been unaccounted since many of the victims had no status and their family members remain in hiding to avoid arrest from the Thai authorities.

Despite getting help, many workers were deported after losing their work permit cards when the wave struck, with many being accused as thieves by the Thai who wished to target them as looters even if they are innocent.

“Many migrant workers are unsure about their future and continue to hide in areas close to where they work around construction sites in Phang Nga and Phuket” said Nai Sumit, a social worker of PHAMIT based in southern Thailand .

“I had witnessed the suffering of my friend, his wife is missing after the giant wave struck their place, he was then arrested and deported back because he wasn’t able to  present a document (medical test paper) which was lost,” said Aung Win, a coworker at a construction site in Phang Nga.

After the disaster, the Thai police accused some Burmese migrant workers as looters as an excuse to get rid of potential thieves.  Both illegal and legal workers who lost their labor registration cards due to the tsunami have been arrested and deported by Thai authorities without being questioned.  Many fled to hiding places and dared not identify themselves as victims for humanitarian assistances fearing arrest and deportation.

Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) estimated that there were about 2500 to 3000 Burmese killed, lost at sea or thrown onto the beach from the killer wave, most of whom were Mons and Tavoyans fishermen from southern Burma .

According to Pattanarak Foundation, a Thai NGO based in Sangkhlaburi of Thai Burma border, there were between 700 and 1000 Mon migrant workers, especially fishermen, killed by the December 26th tsunami that struck coastlines along the Indian Ocean .  The Pattanarak Foundation, staffed by some Mon, assist Mon migrants in the border area and publishes Mon and Thai languages newsletters for migrants and the Mon community for 2 years.

About 60,000 Burmese workers in six southern provinces (Ranong, Phuket, Phang-Nga, Trang, Satun and Krabi) are officially registered while the number of illegal workers is unknown.  The Asian Human Rights Commission estimated that about 2,000 migrant workers have been deported in recent weeks while 2,300 died and 4,000 are missing.  Many rights groups are concerned about the situation of Burmese workers who are isolated and received no assistance.       

Inside Burma , Kaowao has learnt that coastal villages in Mon State were not severely affected by the tsunami; however families of Mon fishermen have not heard from their men who were out at sea fishing.  Many fishermen will remain at sea for months to catch fish and will be unable to contact their family.  So families wonder whether their men are dead or alive, some have decided to do merit deeds according to traditional Buddhism, the source from Monland reported.

Culture and Literature

(Gore Lawi, January 26, 2005)

The second series of “Heritage of Mon Culture” karaoke CDs will be distributed to the Mon community worldwide by the first week of February.

The new VCD includes six classical songs recorded and distributed by Mon Literature and Culture Association in Monland. One popular song is “The Power and Glory of King Razadhirart” that tells about his life as one of the most famous Mon king who ruled in lower Burma .  

 “We are concerned about copyrights, we have put in a lot of money and effort into preparing this VCD” said Nai Shwe Thein, a distributing team member. 50 people spent over 5 million kyat (US $ 5,000) to cover the costs of rehearsals and recording for three months. The Mon Literature and Culture Association team is seeking assistance to prevent their VCDs from being illegally copied by those wishing to sell it for self profit, especially among the huge migrant community in Thailand and other countries.

It’s more exciting than the first series distributed last year with many outdoor shootings on the newly built Mottama-Mawlamyine Salween Bridge ,” said Nai Ong Janeah, who coordinated the dance troupe.

The VCD is directed by Mehm Chan Mon (AMS) featuring vocalists Nai Tun Thein and Mi Maroh Sorn (Mi Mya Than) backed by a traditional band of Mon State Cultural Association.

The Mon community around the world purchased the first VCD last year and adopted the dance styles for the Mon National Day dance performance.  The distributing team urges the Mon community around the world to buy the original VCD to support Mon Cultural Heritage.

(January 27, 2005)

For those having no Internet access and email, Kaowao has launched an A-4 sized Mon-Burmese newspaper publication in welcoming the New Year 2005.

The hardcopy news is published for Mon migrant workers in Thailand and refugees along the Thai Burma border who have no news on the situation back home and who want to learn about the outside world.

The hard copy has 24 pages, 18 in Mon and 6 in Burmese language with news from Mon state, the ethnic areas, international news, articles, interviews and opinions.

“We have been asked by many people and so will increase more copies in the future,” said editor Nai Tine Htaw who headed the project along with Kun Yekha.  Thailand based local reporters Nai Yin Sanaing, Nai Lawi, Nai Lahoin, and Gore Lawi are volunteering for contributing news and distribution.

According to the team, the A4 sized newspapers can be easily copied in many areas and is cheaper than other hard copies. Despite limited financial resources, Kaowao is determined to soar to readers every month in the first week.

Kaowao’s website in English and Mon languages is viewed worldwide, from Rangoon to Helsinki , Bangkok to Guildford .  Among users in continents who visited the websites, North America rates 38%, Europe 34%, Asia 26%, and Australia 2%.  Canada ranks 1, United States 2, Finland 3, Thailand 4, Malaysia 5, United Kingdom 6, France 7, Singapore 8, The Netherlands 9, Korea 10, Norway 11, Germany 12, China 13, Sweden 14, New Zealand 15 while Myanmar ranks 25. (December 24, 2004)

Interestingly, keyword search in Kaowao’s website includes: ‘sex’, ‘yaba’, ‘thai’, ‘monland’, ‘Tavoy’, ‘theatre’ ‘KNU’ and ‘NLD’.

Kaowao News was first released in English by email from Thailand in November 2001.

(Nai Ong  Mon and Taramon: January 26, 2005)

Sangkhalaburi -- About a hundred families fled to Mon resettlement camp near Thai Burma border during this month after their homes were destroyed by Burma Army, Mon Relief and Development Committee reported.

The majority of newly arrived IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) came from Pauk Pinkwin (Wae Kwao), Ma Kyi (Mang Glong) and Hoay Kyar villages of southern Ye and Yebyu Townships after some houses were uprooted by the Burma Army.

“Seven houses including my house were destroyed and burnt down,” Mi Doot, an old woman who recently arrived to the camp claimed. Another woman also said that ten houses from her track were uprooted by the aggressive Infantry Battalion during military operation to wipe out Mon armed group.

“The Burma Army accused local villagers as rebel supporters and took their furniture and wood to the military camps before they burned the houses,” a member of Mon Relief and Development Committee told Kaowao.

“Many houses were built in traditional style several years ago with strong hard wood, they brought furniture and wood to the military base before burning our house,” the family who temporarily arrived at the camp said.

Some porters are used to carry ammunitions and food for the army.  Chairman of Hle-Seik (Hnaek Kwi) and other village headmen were ordered to provide porters for the LIB 408 led by Captain Nyi Nyi Htwe.

The local villagers also have to purchase daily ticket (travel allowance) to work in their farms and plantations.  Civilians from Southern Ye are suffering from brutal human right violations and oppression by the Burma Army under the name of military offensive to annihilate the Mon armed group led by Nai Hloin and Nai Bin.  The insurgents in turn use ambush tactics and guerrilla warfare.  Conflict between the groups has been raging now for about (8) years and local villagers are being driven out of their homes.

Currently, Light Infantry Battalion No. 408, 304, and 309 are in charged of military operation in northern Yebyu and Infantry Battalion No. 31 is on duty in southern Ye site. 

(Banyear Taoy: January 24, 2005)

Many prostitutes in Mon state are under the age of 18, reported sources from the business community from the capital of Mon State , Moulmein .

“I think about 30 percent of them are children; we can tell how old they are by looking at their faces,” said a businessman who often visits places for sex and drinking.  He added that in Ye Township alone, there are over ten brothels, each employs about 8 prostitutes and men can easily buy alcohol and have sex at a cost of 5-10 dollars (5,000-10,000 Kyats). 

A bus driver from Mudon says some brothels operate in co-operation with local authorities including the Burma Army.  Customers who buy drinks can fondle the girls. The young girls have to follow their wishes, if they refuse the drunken men, they could lose their jobs and vehicles.

Another Mon businessman close to the local BA commanders says that soldiers expect free sex when they visit the brothels. “The commanders get free sex because these young women worry about losing their business if they refuse.  They are afraid of being arrested and having their vehicles seized, because they have no licenses.”

According to a youth leader from Thanbyu Zayat (ZopBu), everyone knows this threat to the prostitutes who are exploited for sex.  The young girls are told they would be arrested if they don’t agree to have free sex with the Army officers because they have no permission to own cars without licenses.

Nai Win (not his real name), a community leader, said that some men do not use condoms when they get drunk.  The owners of brothel bars pay bribes to the local authorities on a monthly basis.

(IMNA: January 11, 2005)

The Burma army is forcing villagers into building government run high schools, while shutting down a traditional Mon national education system in southern part of Ye township, Mon state.

One person from each household is reportedly to work everyday to build the school from brick, according to villagers. “We must bake the bricks and supply our own food. The soldiers pay us nothing,” a villager told IMNA.

The Mon National School teachers protested to the BA wanting to be (set free) from forced labor saying also not to force villagers into building the school, according to a source close to the teachers. In reply, the BA, under the command of Tactical Commander, Col-Nyi Nyi said they only exempt their colleagues and employees from forced labor.

“That exemption is the reason why many of our school teachers are being forced to work,” said a leader from the Mon National School .  The government has built only one school, but is forcing villagers in Khaw-zar Sub-Town and nearby villages to build two more, according to an IMNA source.

“One building is already built and we have two left to go”, a community leader said when IMNA conducted an interview with him. According to a community leader, the army also is forcing villagers to collect wood for baking the brick. The soldiers collect a cow-cart amount of wood per household and threatens us with fines if we fail to deliver the wood,” the leader added.

Additionally, the person running the brick factory has to sell bricks at 10 Kyat per brick (6x size brick) for the BA, when the price for bricks in the market is 25 Kyat per brick.

“They want the school built properly, with our money, with our labour to high standards,” the leader added. But the Mon villagers are ordered not to maintain their own schools in Khaw-zar. The soldiers threaten the villagers not to repair their schools, the leader added. The SPDC has built its primary school in seven Mon villages near by Khaw-zar area, the southern part of Ye township, where the Mon National Schools are administrated. Most SPDC schools are built from forced labor and forced money contribution.

In mid 2004, 63 of Mon National Schools in this area were forced to shut down and the system was shifted to the Burmese Schools as ordered by the BA. This event happened when the New Mon State Party (NMSP) was attending the National convention demanding ethnic rights together with other cease-fire ethnic groups.

Most Mon National Schools are headed by the NMSP Education Department, management and controlled by them for three decades.

The BA commanders say they are going to force Mon students to attend the new government built schools in eight villages included Khaw-zar, which are competing against the Mon National School system in the coming school year, 2005-2006.

(Nai Aie TaMai, January 14, 2005)

 The Burma Army has issued out illegal licenses to vehicle owners, charging bribes for each license worth 500,000 Kyats, a Mon businessman in Moulmein said.

Thura Myint Aung, Commander of Southeast Command, with his joint staff officer Colonel Myo Winn issued the licenses to cars that had been seized three months ago, the source said.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) had seized more than one thousand illegal vehicles in Mon and Karen states, the vehicles that remain are kept in a secret place and had their engines taken apart for future use.

Business people lined up to pay bribes to the commander to get new license, those who do not have licenses are to be arrested. As the licenses are not issued legally, the buyers are concerned that their cars could be seized again, the source said.

Document papers are issued by Colonel Myo Winn who is in charge of dealing with the cease-fire groups in southern Burma , the NMSP officials said.  The Colonel is infamous among civilians in southern Mon State because of human rights violations and the perpetrator during Thunder Victory No. (3) Military Operation that claimed to wipe out opposition armed groups since December 12, 2003 to 2004.

(Nai Ong Mon, January 8, 2005)

 Posters announcing that the Burma Army will pay up to 10 million Kyats for information leading to the capture of Mon guerrilla leader are on sale in northern Ye Byu Township.

Nai Thaw, a Mon community leader from the area said the Burma Army ordered every family to buy the posters of wanted Mon guerilla leaders, each worth 700 Kyats (Burmese currency).

“The villagers must obey the order and every household must buy 3 posters of their (Burma Army) wanted men and post them in home or risk being tortured,” said Nai Thaw.

The poster stated that anyone who can provide information leading to the guerrilla leader Nai Bin’s whereabouts or who can bring him in will be awarded with the money.  Second leader Nai Hloin and other leaders, Nai Chan Dein and Nai Sook Gloing each have one million put on their heads. 

Following this order, local villagers are caught in the middle because the guerrilla group has also threatened them not to follow the Burma Army’s instructions.  The threat from both sides has forced them to flee the area gradually.  Some have fled to a Mon resettlement site as internally displaced person (IDP) and some sneaked to Thailand, according to Mon Relief and Development Committee, based in Sangkhalaburi, Thai Burma border.  A village headman said some villagers have also moved to a religious site in northern Ye township where (they believe) a famous Buddhist monk can give them protection.

According to a source from the area, about 50 Mon guerillas who had survived a heavy military offensive by Aung Moe Gyo Operation No. (3) surrendered to the New Mon State Party.  There is a rumor that Nai Hloin, the second leader of the group who was wounded wants to surrender to the NMSP, but his younger brother, Nai Bin has threatened to kill him if he does.

The Burma Army has launched an offensive to wipe out the Mon armed group and the insurgents in turn use ambush tactics and guerrilla warfare.


National Convention or National Referendum
(Banya Hongsar, Canberra : January 2005)

The National Convention in Burma has become a political bargaining shop but no one is assured that democratization will take place in a few years.  Legitimate representatives of parliament, leaders of the military regime, and cease-fire armed representatives will find it difficult to articulate possible solutions for a change if two important questions are not asked at the National Convention: what form of democracy and federalism is suitable for Burma ?

The Burmese people voted for a democratic nation in 1990, but are not prepared for a federal system. Non-Burman leaders had proposed a federal system before independence in 1947, but when the Burman leaders rejected it civil war broke out and mistrust fueled conflict for over five decades, while the Burman leaders adopted a “Burmanization” policy in late 1970s that denied all groups, including the Burman fundamental human rights. If representatives of non-Burman ethnic group’s leaders re-propose the old proposal, what will the SPDC response is? It will be flatly rejected.

They will answer that Burma is a union composed of Seven States and Seven Divisions. But the Seven States are allocated to the majority non-Burman people without legitimate power and Seven Divisions are allocated to majority Burman.  No single State and Divisions have legitimate power to run their own affairs, the country’s defense force controls all legitimate power on the nation’s affairs and they feel they must do this to ensure stability.  If we attend the NC, what policy paper, term paper, individual speech, draft State Constitution and other related documents can we bring to the table? If the Committee for the Convention rejects all documents written by the opposition party or the exiled based Burma ’s technical team, what possible alternative do we have to proceed further? 

We have to keep in mind that the ruling military leaders have invested all of Burma ’s resources into its own organizations and affiliated Rangoon based associations to back up their agenda in the upcoming Convention.  They launched a psychological warfare on all social and political organizations with a logo of Union Solidarity and Development Association or the USDA who attacked Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Buddhist monks in Upper Burma

They formed local militia forces and hired security guards like village headmen council to support their propaganda. Local people have to provide not only information on anti-government activities but also for the welfare of local government’s militia groups.  The military officials turn a blind eye on social and economical affairs while its members rape local ethnic women and strike illegal deals in border trade to neighboring countries. 

Has the SPDC or its senior leaders ever listened to the opinions of the UN, USA , Europe and other western leaders? They rejected the UN resolution to hold a tripartite dialogue, denied any wrong doing on the principle of human rights, attacked the ILO report on forced labor, and brushed aside Amnesty International concern for the welfare of political prisoners.  In the last ten years, thousands of reports on human rights violations, discrimination of women and children, especially to ethnic women in the rural areas have been denied by the military.  If we think that we have capacity and moral authority to exchange our political mandate then we have to ask will they listen to us at the NC.

Burma held its first ever General Election in 1990 without a ‘cease-fire agreement’ in which there was over twenty armed insurgent organizations in the jungle. We must be aware that the ethnic groups are suffering in rural areas who reside in the non-Burman seven States.

Democratic Agenda:

The question of ‘federalism’ has not been put forward for public census.  Many Burmans prefer to speak about ‘democracy’ while the minority non-Burman in the seven non-Burma States prefers to speak on the question of ‘federalism’. If the State Peace and Development Council reject these two political agendas then what kind of debate could representatives of political parties and non-Burman leaders present in the coming ‘National Convention” in Rangoon ?

What power and administrative structure will enable the non-Burma seven States to exercise their rights within their own territory under a democratic government? In the case of law and order, security forces and law enforcement agency, what form of constitutional arrangement can a new Burma government pursue for the local public to serve their needs? 

The local people without the help of the government built thousands of non-Burman villages, schools and monastic institutions which have developed the economy of towns and villages based on their cultures and traditions. The BA has destroyed some of these rural villages and accused them of being ‘rebel supporters’ for the past four decades.  Representatives of the delegates who will meet at the upcoming N C have to look at the principles of “fairness and equality” for all citizens that addresses these violations. It is easy to point a finger and blame the other but it’s not easy to find a framework for social justice.

Burma ’s Political Interest:

The military personnel and politicians have to study a ‘new politics’ relevant for the environment of Burma ’s political cultures.  A new politics is not just about the idea of power sharing, but also to lay a foundation for community decision-making at the local, national and regional levels. Women must take a leading role in all of aspects of society, including the development of the economy and the political institutions..  Leaders of the defense forces and ethnic armed leaders must have an open mind if they are ever to solve the problems of ethnic conflict.  There is no time to waste in looting resources and bargaining over the boundary of land.  Politicians, army and religious leaders can’t just sit back and relax while millions of children are out off school begging for food at the railroad stations and the youth are denied a future from lack of vocational training.

Businessmen and investors can’t go on making a profit in the business sectors while the currency market is near total collapse, without the people having a say in how resources are to be used for the betterment of the country.  The SPDC does not have the capacity to run the nation in the long run, they lack technical and financial resources to manage the government and the country. 

Federalism Agenda:

Burmese ‘federalism’ is not to separate the people in the country; it is based on equality and equity regardless of history and cultures.  Leaders of all political parties and ethnic organizations have to demonstrate that they can live together under a principle of ‘unity and solidarity.’ 

No solidarity is achieved unless common people accept each other and share common beliefs on the concept of equality and opportunity for all.  Over the last 200 years, various forms of authority have ruled Burma for over 5 decades; today the nation is underdeveloped as a result of civil war and a war against colonization. To bring stability, Burma must develop a new way of thinking about politics that considers ‘equality and opportunity’ for all citizens regardless of historical and cultural events in the past.

Public Awareness:

The Burmese language is not sufficient to educate all the people in the country while 40% or more of the population speaks their own language. If the SPDC is committed to transform the country then an independent media should be installed and a community radio stationed in the rural areas.  The SPDC has to print and publish millions of copies of books and papers on ‘democracy, human rights and equality’ for all schools, colleges and universities. 

Many Burma ’s scholars acknowledge that Burma ’s political system is a failed system and to properly impart ‘democracy’ to the people groups have to tackle corruption and try to maintain law and order in the community.  We cannot hope to build trust between Burman and non-Burman while senior politicians seek power for the sake of personal interests and civil war, which won’t solve anything.

The National Convention and the Public’s Interest:

There are two key agendas representatives of political parties and military authority have to debate about at the National Convention.  The first is how to transform the country to civilian rule from military rule and the second is how to build a federal state. If they fail to address these two key issues, the assembly will be a waste of time and not in the interests of the people.

The up coming Nation Convention has to achieve a consensus from the public about what type of ‘federal state’ the public wants based on mutual respect, recognition and cooperation.


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