[lg policy] Myanmar's new govt unveils strategy for peace with ethnic groups:

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Apr 2 15:00:59 UTC 2016


Myanmar's new govt unveils strategy for peace with ethnic groups: The
Nation columnists
[image: Myanmar's new Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) shaking
hands with military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (second from
right) after a handover ceremony at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw,
Myanmar, on March 30, 2016.] Myanmar's new Foreign Minister Aung San Suu
Kyi (centre) shaking hands with military chief Senior General Min Aung
Hlaing (second from right) after a handover ceremony at the presidential
palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on March 30, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
Published
Apr 1, 2016, 11:05 am SGT
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In recognising the centrality of ethnic affairs to socio-political
stability, the incoming Myanmar government is wisely following a path
already trodden by some of its Asean neighbours, such as the Philippines
and Singapore.

John Draper & Peerasit Kamnuansilpa

The Nation/Asia News Network

Myanmar's incoming civilian government this month announced plans to
introduce a Ministry for Ethnic Affairs.

The creation of this ministry, together with the appointment of a Christian
vice-president for this Buddhist-majority country, seems calculated to
reduce the number and severity of Myanmar's ethnic conflicts.

It coincides with a major and related Unicef-backed initiative to create a
Myanmar National Language Policy (NLP).

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won power in
November's elections at the expense of a slew of not just junta but also
ethnic minority regional candidates.

The NLD is well aware of this and also of the history of armed conflict
between the Myanmar state and ethnic minorities desiring more autonomy,
such as the Karen.

Hence its moves to focus on ethnic affairs.

The response to the planned new ministry has so far been generally
favourable, with Upper House lawmaker Je Yaw Wu, from Kachin state and
representing the National Unity Party, coming out in favour on the grounds
it is crucial for national reconciliation and addresses the historical
lobbying of ethnic lawmakers.

Meanwhile, only the most extreme of Myanmar's ultranationalists have
opposed the appointment of the ethnic Chin Henry Van Thio to the
vice-presidency, with the Buddhist monk-led Patriotic Association of
Myanmar not protesting the move.

Crucial to the success of an Ethnic Affairs Ministry are likely to be
activities supportive of a plural, federal structure, such as those of the
task force responsible for the Unicef-backed language policy, which
includes a foreign academic as facilitator together with the Myanmar Civil
Society Strengthening Programme (Pyoe Pin); the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation,
a civil peace-building movement; and the Thabyay Education Foundation.

This advocacy coalition is engaged in dialogue with parliamentarians,
Education Ministry officials, and many language and culture committees
associated with diverse ethnic groups.

Since 2014, the task force has been operating to develop the Myanmar NLP in
close cooperation with the Education Ministry under Unicef's "Language,
Education and Social Cohesion" initiative.

Core legislation to support the initiative includes the Comprehensive
Education Sector Review to transform Myanmar's education system, announced
in 2013, the 2015 version of the National Education Law, and a 2015 Ethnic
Rights Law.

Together these provide a nurturing framework for using education and the
mother tongue in peace-building in Myanmar.

The Myanmar NLP initiative is a pragmatic attempt to address years of
unresolved questions.

It focuses on the national and official language, international languages
and ethnic minority languages, seeking a secure role for each. While a key
aim is to contribute to peace and guarantee the language rights of all
groups, it also fosters national communication, international economic and
diplomatic links, improved standards of literacy, and equity for
communication-disabled children such as the deaf and visually impaired.

This broad focus has widespread appeal and shows that a language policy can
be created to meet international obligations, promote the national language
as a cohesive factor, overcoming decades of conflict linked to language and
culture differences.

This appeals to a wide range of interests including those concerned with
economic and education development and subsequently enhanced life choices
for all Myanmar's citizens.

The initiative is labour intensive and oriented towards building peace
through dialogue between erstwhile enemies. It has involved 20 facilitated
dialogues nationwide, together with several subsidiary research projects,
multiple direct consultations and site visits, interviews, observations and
professional training workshops.

Myanmar also held the Mandalay Conference in February, bringing together
hundreds of delegates to present papers, participate, and consider the NLP
initiative's consultation, dialogue and specialist input phases.

One of the main outputs of the Mandalay conference will be the first draft
of the National Language Policy, which will consist of principles, policy
aims, and implementations plans targeted at the township level, which will
require approval from the Ethnic Affairs Ministry as well as other
government ministries and agencies.

The draft is due to be published later this year, followed by further
consultation and dialogue phases, with the NLP being developed along with
bottom-up state policies in Kayin, Mon and Kachin states.

The end result may be a flagship piece of legislation for the new Ethnic
Affairs Ministry. It may also facilitate moves towards establishing Myanmar
as a genuine federal union complete with revenue sharing along ethnic
lines, as first demanded by the country's ethnic minorities in 1948 when
the country won its independence.

The transition to a civilian, democratic government which is determined to
resolve ethnic differences under President Htin Kyaw was recently welcomed
by the Shan State-based Ta'ang National Liberation Army, which is still in
conflict with the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, and with other armed
ethnic-based groups, such as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army
and the Arakan Army.

These groups see grounds for hope in the fact that Suu Kyi and the NLD are
directly targeting the core reasons behind decades of conflict within
Myanmar by seeking to engage with the country's ethnic minorities and
promoting factors necessary for national socio-political cohesion -
linguistic, cultural and educational human rights.

While the previous government did recognise the plurality of ethnic races
that exist in Myanmar - 135 according to a 1988 ruling - the Tatmadaw
frequently embraced military rather than peace-building resolutions to
Myanmar's internal conflicts.

Moreover, the focus on an NLP via the Mandalay Conference presents a clear
breakthrough. According to Bertrand Bainvel, Unicef representative to
Myanmar: "In countries like Myanmar, promoting and managing the diversity
of cultures, ethnicities, languages and religions, needs thoughtful
consideration to society, with the question of education and language
policy at its core."

In recognising the centrality of ethnic affairs to socio-political
stability, the incoming Myanmar government is wisely following a path
already trodden by some of its Asean neighbours, such as the Philippines
and Singapore.

It is also setting an example for other Asean countries, such as Thailand,
which is yet to address these underlying causes of conflict despite two
years of military government-mandated "reconciliation".

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/myanmars-new-govt-unveils-strategy-for-peace-with-ethnic-groups-the-nation-columnists


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