Naing Htoo's blog

Burma in the headlines: what does it all mean?

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of contradictory events in Burma, and I am trying to make sense of what they mean for the people of my long-suffering country.  As media and policy-makers from around the world rush to embrace these changes, those of us who have seen first-hand the duplicity of Burma's authorities hope for the best, but have come to expect the worst.

Ongoing Military Violence and Alleged Abuses

In June, August, and again in late September of this year, the Tatmadaw (Burmese Armed Forces) launched brutal attacks against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and committed horrific crimes against the local ethnic people living in Kachin and northern Shan State. These attacks likely had much to do with securing territory around key Chinese-led energy projects, as well as the ethnic armed groups’ refusal to give in to pressure by the former military regime to become Border Guard Forces.

Then, just this week, a damning report was released by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand which tells in graphic detail how the Burmese Army, in the course of their attacks against the KIA, raped and murdered local people in-front of family members, forced local people to serve as human mine sweepers, and committed other awful acts that may  amount to war crimes. 

 

Chinese Dam Project Suspended

In the middle of these attacks against the KIA, Thein Sein – Burma’s so-called “civilian” president who ended decades of military service to run in the deeply flawed 2010 election – declared a unilateral suspension of the controversial Chinese-led Myitsone Dam. The suspension followed an unprecedented nation-wide grassroots campaign against the dam, which promised to devastate the ecology of . . .

Fighting intensifies around oil and gas pipelines construction in Burma

While Daewoo International, the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and their sub-contractors are busy constructing the Burma-China oil and gas pipelines facilities across Arakan State, Magway Division and Mandalay Division to Shan State, fighting between the Burma army and several ethnic nationalities including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), SSPP (formally SSA-S and SSA-N) continue throughout Kachin State and Northern Shan State.

Many civilians have fled the area since the Burma Army began its offensive back in March 2011. Some have fled to neighboring towns, others to the Burma-China border, and some others to Burma-Thailand border. Many villagers remain in hiding in the jungle in the area.

On August 11, 2011, a press release issued by the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) claimed that villagers fleeing Burma Army atrocities have soared to over 30,000 during recent intensified attacks against the Shan State Army North (SSA-N), causing a dire humanitarian crisis in northern Shan State. The report indicates that over 4,000 Burmese troops from 42 battalions were deployed during July to seize the SSA-N headquarters of Wan Hai in Ke See Township, backed up by jet fighter planes. Advancing through surrounding villages, troops have been scaling up atrocities against civilians, including killings, rapes and mutilations. One dead villager was found with his leg and hand cut off.

Northern Shan State, where the proposed oil and gas pipelines will pass through, is partly under control of both the KIA 4th Brigade and SSA-N. Both the KIA and SSA-N had a ceasefire with Burmese regime, but this agreement disappeared after the Burmese regime attempted to force ceasefire groups to join so-called Border Guard Forces (BGF). After the KIA and SSA-N brigades 3 and 5 . . .

Natural resource projects in conflict areas: In military controlled Burma, will history be repeated?

In early March, the Burmese Army attacked the Shan State Army-North (SSAN) in northern Shan State.  The fighting has since spread throughout northern Shan State.  Previously, in 2009, the Burmese Army attacked the Kokang ethnic group, also in northern Shan State in an area north of the current fighting, leading to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing into China. The current fighting with SSAN has already lasted for three months and will likely continue for some time, and the Burmese Army attack has helped motivate the SSAN and Shan State Army-South (SSAS) to create a close alliance.

Then last week, in Southern Kachin State, close to the border with northern Shan State, the Burmese Army attacked a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) base in Momauk Township. This fighting will also likely continue and may spread throughout the entire KIA controlled area in Southern Kachin State. Recent reports indicate this fighting may be related to two Chinese dam projects in Kachin State that block Burma's rivers and provide electricity to industry in Yunnan, China.

When development projects meet ethnic conflict

On December 1, 2009, a formal agreement was signed with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise stipulating that the Burmese government will guarantee the safety of the Burma-China onshore crude oil pipeline, which will transport oil from Africa and the Middle East through Arakan State in western Burma and northern Shan State to Yunnan Province in China.  Along with a parallel natural gas pipeline also being constructed and operated by CNPC and its subsidiaries, these projects are increasing the economic and political importance of northern Shan State.

Many ethnic armed groups have been active in northern Shan State and southern Kachin State for many years, including KIA, SSAN, and SSAS. Both the KIA and SSAN have . . .

The truth that Chevron doesn’t want to you to hear

On May 24, I traveled to Houston, Texas, to join indigenous community leaders and earth rights activists from around the globe who are part of  The True Cost of Chevron Network. We came to Houston to attend Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting and speak directly to the company and its shareholders about the severe impacts this oil giant is causing to our people and our lands. We came to demand that Chevron improve its practices in our communities, and stop deceiving the public and its investors about the true cost of its operations.

Unfortunately, Chevron didn’t want its shareholders to hear about its complicity in human rights abuses and corruption, toxic pollution, environmentally dangerous practices, and other harmful activities around the globe.

Guillermo Grefa, an indigenous Kichwa leader from Ecuador, and Naing HtooGuillermo Grefa, an indigenous Kichwa leader from Ecuador, and Naing Htoo outside Chevron's Houston headquarters

Instead, Chevron viewed its annual meeting as a public relations opportunity; a time to tout its successes and pretend that it is a responsible corporate actor. To accomplish this deceit it tried to silence us, representatives of communities all over the globe affected by this company. Under threats of arrest, Chevron refused us entry into the shareholder meeting. All of us had valid legal proxies that granted us access to the meeting, but the company cared little.

It was so disturbing to see people like Neil McKenzie — who had never before left his homeland in the Kimberly of Australia — to make the trip all the way to Houston to speak directly to the company only to be refused entry and . . .

We Won’t Stop Until There’s Full Transparency in Burma

Last week, we held a press conference in Bangkok to announce the release of an initiative to pressure the oil companies Total, Chevron, and PTTEP to publish the last 18 years of taxes, bonuses, royalties and other payments they’ve made to the Burmese military junta. These companies operate the controversial Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand, in partnership with the Burmese military junta.

You cannot always predict the future, and on the day of the press conference, the leaders of Thailand’s red shirt movement addressed throngs of protesters just outside the front door of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT). We were unsure whether we would even be able to hold our event — rumors swirled that the protesters would disrupt the SkyTrain and other events at the FCCT were cancelled — but despite the massive political uprising unfolding just outside the building, a number of journalists and media outlets recognized the importance of transparency in Burma, attended our event, asked poignant questions, and wrote some excellent stories.

(VIDEO) Press Conference, 27 April 2010

With my ERI colleague Matthew Smith and Shwe Gas Movement colleague Wong Aung, we addressed about 20-30 journalists. We explained why revenue transparency is important for the people of Burma; what it will and will not do for Burma and why these three companies can and should become the first to publish their payments to the notorious ruling junta. We called on the companies to publish taxes, fees, royalties, benefits, and other payments they’ve made to the authorities since 1992.

This initiative has an unprecedented group . . .