Sunday, January 31, 2010

Indian tourists to visit Burma on land route

Guwahati (Mizzima) - A group of Indian tourists are geared to visit military-ruled Burma, through the border gates of the two countries in Manipur state, India on March, organisers of the package tour said on Thursday.

The Indo-Myanmar Fraternal Alliance (IMFA), an NGO based in Manipur state’s capital Imphal, on Thursday told journalists at the Guwahati Press Club in Northeast India’s Assam state that they are arranging a package tour from the Northeast India to Burma’s ancient capital of Mandalay.

R.K.Shivachandra, President of the IMFA, said the tour is coming about after six years after the Burmese junta lifted travel restrictions from Manipur to Burma. The tour will begin from Moreh on the Indian border town, without having to go through the hassles of obtaining passports and visas from Kolkata.

Shivachandra said the IMFA is organising this trip in collaboration with Diamond Palace Tourism Company in Burma, and at least 70 people from Manipur and Nagaland states in Northeast India have already been booked for the package tour.

“Meities [Manipuris] have their own blood and brothers in Myanmar [Burma]. The same holds true for the Nagas. We appeal to the people of Assam to also join us as Tai Ahoms have very close links with the Shans,” Shivachandra said.

“Media persons can come too but they have to book themselves as tourists, else they will not be allowed to travel inside Myanmar [Burma]. In all we are expecting around 200 to 250 members to register for this trip”, he added.

It is rare for the Burmese junta to provide visas to foreign journalists, as information flow is on a leash.

The IMFA President said, the trip will begin from Imphal town and  travel through Burma’s bordering town of Tamu, Kalewa and Monywa and finally to Mandalay city.

It is a seven day trip, at the cost of Rs 12,000 per head would include food, 3 Star hotel accommodation, cruises and entertainment.

“But if there are demands then from Mandalay we can arrange a day long trip to Psipaw (250 kms from Mandalay), the place of the Shans for our Assamese brothers," he added.

Shivachandra said this initial tour will be a sort of root-tracing trip, as there are several roots to be explored in Burma reaching right up to Yunnan in China.

"A strong friendship and trade and economic relations can be fostered between NE India and Myanmar and neighbouring countries like Thailand and Yunnan in China through people to people movement, understanding and collaboration. Opening of border tourism will pave the way for this understanding," he said.

IMFA has also appealed to the Manipur Government to allow Buddhist tourists from Burma and other Southeast Asian countries, wishing to go to Bodh Gaya in Bihar to come through Moreh-Imphal on the land route via Assam for their destination.

"We are not saying this but huge pressure is actually being applied by the Buddhists from the neighbouring countries to make this a reality. Countries like Myanmar are not exactly rich and it costs a religious tourist to Bodh Gaya around Rs 45,000 [Approximately USD 1,000] for air travel via Kolkata. The same will come down to Rs 15,000 through Imphal. The affordability will also increase the volume of tourists,' said the President.

IMFA has also appealed to allow patients from bordering Burma like Tamu town to undergo treatment in Imphal, which is at a distance of 100 kilometres, rather than moving to Mandalay around 500 kilometres away.

"This will not only be convenient but will also bolster friendship and ties," said Shivachandra.

The IMFA, a group formed in 2004 to boost relationship with Burma, has organised periodic tour packages to Burma for North Eastern Indian people. During  2004-2005, the IMFA organised about 15 tour packages to different tourist destinations in Burma including former capital Rangoon, ancient city of Mandalay and hill station Pyin Oo Lwin.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chin women’s organization holds election on Indo-Myanmar border

28 January : The Central Chin Women’s Organization (CCWO) in exile held its election on the Indo-Myanmar border area on 17 January.

The representatives, who participated in the elections, were from 12 out of 13 CCWO’s sub-offices while other representatives were from Chin political organizations and Chinland women’s organization. The election was successfully held, a press release said.

“In fact we have to first hold the conference of our organization, and then conduct elections according to the constitution of the organization. However, we conducted the conference since the organization was established for many reasons. Therefore, we decided to conduct elections against the constitution,” said Shalom, secretary of CCWO.

The main objectives of the organization are to empower women, to develop children’s education and to build a federal state in Burma.

“Now we are conducting computer classes to help women, and are providing financial assistance to children abroad. Besides, we conduct educational awareness for Chin women,” said the president of CCWO.
In the elections, Shalom was elected to the post of secretary and Mrs. Siang Chin to the post of President. Four other leaders were elected to other posts.

The Central Chin Women’s Organization (CCWO) was established in 1995 by women’s groups in India.

Khonumthung News.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mizoram arrests Bru leader to sabotage talks and return of the Brus: Chidambaram urged to intervene

New Delhi: The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today condemned the arrest of Mr R Laldangliana as an attempt of the State government of Mizoram to sabotage the dialogue with the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) and the return of the Brus from Tripura. Mr R Laldangliana, Vice President of MBDPF was arrested by the plain clothes Special Branch personnel of Mizoram Police led by Mr R. S. Liantluanga, Inspector at 3.00 pm today, 23 January 2010 at Kanhmun Police Station, Mamit District, Mizoram. Mr Laldangliana was returning along with Mr Elvis Chorkhy (President), Mr S Sawibunga, General Secretary and Mr Bruto Meska after holding talks with the State government on 22 January 2010.

In a letter to the Home Minister P Chidambaram, ACHR stated that the State government of Mizoram took this condemnable measure after the MBDPF in its letter dated 16 January 2010 clearly urged the State government of Mizoram to take measures for immediate return of the Brus who fled to Tripura in November 2009.

In the talks held on 22nd January 2010, the discussion focused on the return of the newly arrived displaced Brus. The MBDPF requested the State government of Mizoram to take measures to facilitate immediate return of the Brus by May 2010. However, Additional Home Secretary to the State government of Mizoram Mr T V Sambawl stated that the Centre had not allocated any funds for the return of the Brus who fled in November 2009. Further, the Deputy Commissioner of Mamit District, Mr Zothankhuma stated that it will take at least six months to prepare the Mizos of Mamit district whether they would allow the return of the Brus.

“All these years, the State government of Mizoram alleged that the Brus sheltered in Tripura do not want to return to Mizoram as the MBDPF leaders who are allegedly enjoying their lives in luxury in the camps do not want the return. However, when the MBDPF expressed in writing to return, the Mizoram government invited the MBPDF leaders under the pretext of holding talks and arrested Mr R Laldangliana to sabotage the entire dialogue and the return of the Brus to Mizoram.” Stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.

ACHR urged Home Minister Chidambaram to intervene with Mizoram government to release Mr R Laldangliana immediately without any conditions; and take immediate measures including release of Central government funds to ensure the return of the Brus who fled in November 2009 could return to their homes before the monsoon which will begin around June 2010.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Wa army training ‘thousands’ of civilians

Jan 18, 2010 (DVB)–Military training is being given by a Burmese ceasefire group to thousands of civilians in Shan state amid tensions between the ceasefire group and the Burmese army, regional sources say.

The 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ceasefire group, has been training civilians from various townships in the Wa region of Shan state since December last year, military analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw told DVB.

The programme, which includes the training of women in the use of small weapons, is due to end on 20 January.

The UWSA, which controls vast swathes of Shan territory, has a loyal following among ethnic Shan in the region. It also plays a leading role in Burma’s opium market, which is the second biggest in the world behind Afghanistan’s.

Tension has been high between the UWSA and the Burmese army following pressure from the government on ceasefire groups to transform into border guard forces and come under the direct control of Naypyidaw.

“The locals are being trained as militias,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said. “The training is being provided by UWSA brigades in different areas. Among 11 townships in Mong Maw district [in northern Shan state], Aike Chin township has the largest number of trainees with about 700 people.”

Demands made by the Wa army in response to the junta’s requests, such as the expansion of Wa territory and a pledge that only ethnic Wa soldiers will be in the border guard unit, have been rejected by the junta.

Following the rejection, the Wa refused a meeting between their leader, Bao Yuxaing, and government officials, citing health reasons.

Last month however the UWSA drew up a nine-point proposal in response to the government, in which they tabled the idea of having a senior army official act the role of deputy military commander in two Wa-controlled regions.

The majority of Burma’s 18 ceasefire groups have rejected the government’s demands, which appear to be an attempt to strengthen its support base prior to elections this year.

Observers have warned that clashes similar to the Kokang conflict in September last year could break out if the pressure on ceasefire groups, many of whom hold only tenuous truces with the government, does not abate.

Monday, January 11, 2010

YMA to Platinum Jubilee Celebration Planned on June 15

Aizawl, Jan 11 : The Young Mizo Association (YMA) is to celebrate its Platinum Jubilee on June 15. The organisation was established as the Young Lushai Association (YLA) on June 15, 1935 and later renamed Young Mizo Association in 1947 to bring wider representation of all the major Zo tribes (viz, Lushai, Hmar, Lai, Mara) under one umbrella.

A decision to celebrate the anniversary was taken by the Central YMA Executive Committee meeting held on January 9 under the chairmanship of its president Pu Lalchungnunga.

The meeting authorised the Office Bearers to constitute a Celebration Committee which will draw up the programme and all the branches will be asked to celebrate the anniversary in a befitting manner, according to officials.

The meeting also discussed the programme for inauguration of the campaign theme for the year and the Office Bearers have been authorised to fix the date.

As already reported, the campaign theme selected for this year is, ‘Social Reform’.

Meanwhile, addressing the CEC meeting, Home Minister Pu R. Lalzirliana thanked the YMA for extending cooperation to the Government for fulfilment of its policies and programmes.

Pu Lalzirliana also underlined the need for effective action for social reforms in view of the fast moral degeneration among the people of Mizoram.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Burma’s alliance with Pyongyang, cause of worry for northeast India

Guwahati (Mizzima) - It is surprising as to why India, one of the strongest global torch bearers of democracy, is so silent on Burma.

Even as pro-democracy forces are fighting a long battle against the despotic military junta in Burma, New Delhi’s silence on Naypyidaw’s growing friendly relationships with Pyongyang, has surprised a lot of Indians, especially in northeast India.

People in northeast India have started questioning as to why New Delhi is so quiet on Burmese military junta’s activities, and especially on its growing relationships with North Korea.

After Burma restored its diplomatic ties with North Korea in April 2007, the Burmese interest to develop nuclear technology has reportedly grown substantially. Even the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said during the ASEAN Summit that the military and nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Burma was a “cause of serious concern”.

“We don’t understand as to why India’s foreign policy is not clear on Burma,” Nagen Saikia, a teacher of political science in Guwahati, capital of Assam State said, adding that New Delhi should immediately make its stand clear on restoration of democracy in Burma, and force Naypyidaw to end its relationship with North Korea.

Concerns were serious in June 2009 when it was reported that a North Korean freighter destined for Burma was suspected of carrying military cargo in violation of UN Security Council’s sanctions. As the US Navy chased the freighter, it returned to North Korea, rather than risk inspections.

Like the people of northeast, several countries in the world want India, which also has an economic interest in Burma, to lend its democratic voice against the autocratic military junta to stop the killing and end its relationship with North Korea.

For people of the northeast, restoration of democracy in Burma is a must. Thousands of people had taken out a candle-light procession in 2007 in Mawphlang in Meghalaya State of India when the junta had unleashed a reign of terror on the Buddhist monks as they were demanding restoration of democracy in the Land of the Pagodas.

“India’s foreign policy on Burma is not to take an active part in the internal matters and is primarily to find a place for itself as China has practically taken over the country,” Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of The Imphal Free Press said, adding that New Delhi is keen to use the country as a trade link to the fast-growing ASEAN region.

Phanjoubam, a senior journalist at Imphal, the capital of Manipur, said India is now desperate to end Chinese supremacy in Burma.

When India’s Vice-President Hamid Ansari visited Burma in 2009, he underlined the importance of economic engagement between the two countries. He had also emphasized the need for increasing the interaction between northeast Indian states and Burma, which occupy a central place in India’s Look East Policy.

Unfortunately, there is no people-to-people contact between the northeastern states and Burma. People, except for the smugglers and insurgents, don’t get to interact with each other. Moreover, people in northeast always look at the military junta with a lot of antagonism and distrust.

But, for New Delhi, Burma is the gateway to ASEAN as it is the only ASEAN country which has land and maritime borders with India. India and the ASEAN signed a Free Trade Agreement in August 2009 which will cover 11 countries, including Myanmar/Burma, with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $2 trillion.

As New Delhi’s relationships with Burma is a necessity, now, people in the northeastern states of India are more worried that any form of cloud-shrouded nexus between Burma and North Korea should not have any serious impact in the region. India and Burma share 1,700 km-long border, which is open and porous. Four Indian states---Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh share long international border running through a hostile terrain.

Saikia argued that New Delhi has been spending huge funds for development of modern roads, including the India-Burma-Thailand Trilateral Highway project and ports in Burma, but in return, people of India, and especially in the northeast, have got nothing.

India is funding $ (US) 20 million for establishment of wire manufacturing plant, $ (US) 64 million for three 230 KV transmission lines in Burma “But, in return, the military junta is giving us tensions and problems,” Saikia alleged.

New Delhi has always miserably failed in capturing Burma’s gas reserve as China and South Korean companies outsmarted India to shore up energy deals. Burma has reportedly one of the world’s biggest gas reserves estimated to be more than 90 trillion cubic feet. The dream project of India-Burma gas pipeline has also failed.

The northeastern states are already concerned over the trans-border movement of the separatist insurgent outfits. The ULFA, NSCN and the Meitei insurgent outfits use different areas under Sagaing Division of Burma that borders with India for safe sanctuary and training, and the State Peace and Development Council (regime in Burma) turns a blind eye to the concern. There are also reports that Burmese military officials collect huge amount of “protection tax” from the insurgent outfits for using the territory.

Drug smugglers, in collaboration with the Burmese security agencies, allegedly bring in large consignments of heroin, Amphetamine and Metamphitamine to the northeastern states, and the youth are falling prey to drugs.

“Several thousand Chins from Burma are illegally staying in Mizoram because of the atrocities of the military junta,” Rozika Changte, a Mizoram government official said, adding that New Delhi is not showing any interest to resolve the problem. Changte, who worked for a long time in the border town of Champhai in Mizoram, said many local Mizos are not happy with the Chin refugees staying in their state illegally.

Burma's military regime has been building underground tunnels in various parts of the country with assistance from North Korea and has been buying weapons from countries like Russia and China. Burma has recently signed a contract to buy 20 MIG-29 fighter planes from Russia. The contract is worth close to $570 million, according to media reports in Russia. It also continue to import various weapons and military equipments from China besides $2 billion arms import in the 1990s.

“Why does Burma need to buy arms? Whom will it fight? China or India? Or, is it trying to sell some of the small arms to the insurgent outfits of northeast” Kabya Jyoti Bora, a social activist working against the proliferation of small arms, said, adding that there are ceasefire agreements with most of armed ethnic groups such as Kachin, Shan and Wa, and the military junta does not need too many arms now.

Instead of instability across the India-Burma border and consequences of the lack of democracy and human rights in it neighbour, people in northeast India now want the general elections in Burma to be held democratically, to be free and inclusive, and the military junta should give up power which it had captured forcefully. Will New Delhi be able to play a pro-active role in Burma's 2010 election process to be free and fair? Or will selling weapons and providing arms to the Burmese junta make India's border safe and help stability on the border? These are questions that New Delhi will have to think over.