Zarni, at the launch of International Pepsi boycott campaign, Chapel Hill, N. Carolina, 27 October 1995

At the London School of Economic "Rule of Law Roundtable", 16 June 2012

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Drafting the Oslo Communique calling for the end to Myanmar's Rohingya Genocide, Voksanaasen, Oslo, 27 May 2015

Giving the Annual Owen M. Kupferschmid Lecture at the Holocaust and Human Rights Project, Boston College Law School, 13 Apr 2015

ျမန္မာျပည္၊ တိုင္းရင္းသား အခြင့္အေရး ႏွင့္ ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရး



ေမာင္ဇာနည္
နယူးေယာက္တုိင္းမ္
စက္တင္ဘာ ၂၅၊ ၂၀၁၅

ျမန္မာ အစုိးရသည္ တျပည္လုံး အပစ္အခတ္ ရပ္စဲေရး သေဘာတူခ်က္ အေပၚ တုိးတက္ ျဖစ္ထြန္းမႈကုိ လေပါင္းမ်ားစြာ ေၾကျငာ ေမာင္းခတ္ လာခဲ့သည္။ ဤအပစ္ရပ္ သေဘာ တူညီခ်က္သည္ ႏွစ္ေပါင္းမ်ားစြာ ျဖစ္ပြား ခဲ့ေသာ ျပည္တြင္း လက္နက္ကုိင္ ပဋိပကၡကုိ အဆုံးသတ္ႏုိင္ေရး အတြက္ ႀကီးမားေသာ ေျခလွမ္းတခုျဖစ္သည္ ဟုလည္း ဆုိ၏။ သုိ႔ေသာ္ လြန္ခဲ့သည့္ စက္တင္ဘာလ ၉ ရက္ေန႔က သမၼတ သိန္းစိန္ႏွင့္ တုိင္းရင္းသား လက္နက္ကုိင္ အဖြဲ႕ တဒါဇင္ေက်ာ္မွ ကုိယ္စားလွယ္မ်ား ထိပ္သီး ေဆြးေႏြးပြဲသည္ မေက်မလည္ႏွင့္ အဆုံးသတ္ ခဲ့ေလသည္။

အပတ္ရပ္ေရး လက္မွတ္ထုိးပြဲတြင္ အစုိးရက အဖြဲ႕အားလုံးကုိ ပါဝင္ခြင့္မျပဳလွ်င္ အခ်ဳိ႕ အဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားက လက္မွတ္မေရးထုိးႏုိင္ဟု ျငင္းဆုိခဲ့သည္။ လက္နက္ကုိင္အဖြဲ႕မ်ားတြင္ ဒုတိယအႀကီးမားဆုံးအုပ္စုျဖစ္ေသာ ကခ်င္လြတ္ေျမာက္ေရးအဖြဲ႕(ေကအုိင္အုိ)သည္ ခပ္မာမာပင္ျငင္းသည္။ အဘယ့္ေၾကာင့္ဆုိေသာ္ ၄င္း၏ အရင္းႏွီးဆုံးမဟာမိတ္မ်ားအနက္ တုိင္းျပည္၏ ေျမာက္ပုိင္းႏွင့္ အေရွ႕ပုိင္းေဒသမ်ားတြင္ ျမန္မာအစုိးရတပ္မ်ားႏွင့္ တုိက္ခုိက္ေနရဆဲျဖစ္ေသာ အဖြဲ႕သုံးဖြဲ႕ကုိ အစုိးရက ပါဝင္ခြင့္မေပးဘဲ ေဘးဖယ္ထားေသာေၾကာင့္ပင္ျဖစ္သည္။

သူပုန္အားလုံးလက္ခံႏုိင္မည့္ သေဘာတူညီခ်က္တခုကုိ ေဖာ္ေဆာင္ရန္မွာ ခက္ခဲပါလိမ့္မည္။ အဘယ့္ေၾကာင့္ဆုိေသာ္ ၄င္းတုိ႔တြင္ မတူညီေသာ အက်ဳိးစီးပြားမ်ား ရွိေနေသာေၾကာင့္ပင္ ျဖစ္သည္။ အခ်ိဳ႕သူမ်ားက - ဥပမာ ကရင္အမ်ဳိးသားအစည္းအရုံး (KNU)- အပစ္ရပ္ေရးကုိ စီးပြားေရးအခြင့္အလမ္းေကာင္းတခုအျဖစ္ ရႈျမင္ၾကသည္။ အဘယ့္ေၾကာင့္ဆုိေသာ္ အသစ္တည္ေဆာက္ၿပီးကာစ အာရွဟုိင္းေဝးလမ္းမႀကီးကုိ ၄င္းတုိ႔က ကုိင္တြယ္အသုံးခ်ႏုိင္မည့္အခြင့္အလမ္း ပြင့္သြားေသာေၾကာင့္ျဖစ္သည္။ ကခ်င္ ႏွင့္ ကရင္ ကဲ့သုိ႔ေသာ သူမ်ားက အပစ္ရပ္စဲျခင္းသည္ မလုိလားအပ္ေသာ ဆည္ပေရာ့ဂ်က္မ်ား၊ ေက်ာက္စိမ္းအလြန္အကၽြံ တူးေဖာ္မႈ , သစ္ေတာ ပုိမုိျပဳန္းတီးမႈမ်ား ႏွင့္ ပုိမုိ၍ဖက္ဒရယ္က်ေသာစနစ္တခုအတြက္ ၄င္းတုိ႔ေတာင္းဆုိခ်က္ကုိ အေလးဂရုမျပဳသလုိ ျဖစ္လာမည္ကုိ စုိးရိမ္ေနၾကသည္။

သုိ႔ရာတြင္ သေဘာတူညီခ်က္ကုိ အၿပီးသတ္ေဖာ္ေဆာင္ႏုိင္ေရးတြင္ အႀကီးမားဆုံး အတားအဆီးတခုမွာ ဤလူနည္းစုတုိင္းရင္းသားအဖြဲ႕အစည္းအားလုံး မကြဲမလြဲ တူညီစြာ မွ်ေဝခံစားၾကသည့္ အရာတခုေၾကာင့္ျဖစ္သည္။ ဤကား ျမန္မာစစ္တပ္အေပၚ မယုံၾကည္မႈပင္တည္း။ ယင္းတုိ႔အားလုံးက ျမန္မာစစ္တပ္ကုိ ေခတ္သစ္ကုိလုိနီနယ္ခ်ဲ႕စိတ္ဓါတ္ပုိင္ရွင္ က်ဴးေက်ာ္အင္အားစုတခုအျဖစ္ ရႈျမင္ၾကသည္။

သူတုိ႔အျမင္ မွန္ပါသည္။ က်ေနာ္လည္း မႏၱေလးတြင္ စစ္တပ္အဆြယ္အပြားမိသားစုတခုအတြင္း ႀကီးျပင္းခဲ့ရသည္။ ျမန္မာျပည္ရွိ လူမ်ား၏ အမ်ားစုကဲ့သုိ႔ပင္ က်ေနာ္တုိ႔သည္ ဗမာလူမ်ဳိး၊ ဗုဒၶဘာသာဝင္မ်ားျဖစ္ၾကၿပီး မြတ္စလင္မ်ားအေပၚ မယုံၾကည္ေသာ၊ ရွမ္း၊ ကရင္၊ ကခ်င္ကဲ့သုိ႔ေသာ တုိင္းရင္းသားမ်ိဳးႏြယ္စုမ်ားအေပၚ အထက္စီးက ဆက္ဆံခ်င္ေသာ ယဥ္ေက်းမႈႀကီးတခု၏ ရုိက္သြင္းမ်ဳိးေစ့ခ်ေပးျခင္းကုိ ခံခဲ့ၾကရသည္။ တုိင္းရင္းသားလူနည္းစုမ်ားအတြက္မူ ၁၉၄၈ ခုႏွစ္ ၿဗိတိသွ်လက္ေအာက္မွ ျမန္မာ့လြတ္လပ္ေရးရခဲ့ျခင္းသည္ လြတ္လပ္ေရးကာလ အပုိင္းအျခားဆုိသည္ထက္ ေနာက္ထပ္ ဖိႏွိပ္မႈအသြင္ကြဲတမ်ဳိးေအာက္သုိ႔ ေရႊ႕ေျပာင္းက်ေရာက္ျခင္းသာျဖစ္သည္။ နယ္ခ်ဲ႕ဖိနွိပ္မႈမွသည္ လူမ်ဳိးႀကီးဝါဒႀကီးစုိးေသာ လူအမ်ားစုလက္ေအာက္ရွိ ဗဟုိအုပ္ခ်ဳပ္မႈစနစ္အျဖစ္သုိ႔ အသြင္ေျပာင္းသြားျခင္းသာျဖစ္သည္။

ႏွစ္ေပါင္း ၇၀ နီးပါးၾကာၿပီးသည့္ေနာက္ ျမန္မာ့ႏုိင္ငံေရးသည္ ဘာသာေရး လူမ်ဳိးေရး ေရာေထြးသည့္ႏုိင္ငံေရးျဖစ္ၿပီး အစုိးရက တုိင္းရင္းသားမ်ားအေပၚ အလုံးစုံ ဖိႏွိပ္ျခင္း မဟုတ္လွ်င္ေတာင္ အုပ္ထိန္းသူအာဏာရွင္ဆန္ဆန္ လက္ဝါးႀကီးအုပ္လုိသည့္ အစုိးရျဖစ္သည္။ က်ေနာ္တုိ႔၏ စစ္ေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားသည္ သူတုိ႔ကုိယ္သူတုိ႔ အမ်ဳိးသားအခ်ဳပ္အျခာအာဏာပုိင္စုိးမႈကုိ ကာကြယ္ေစာင့္ေရွာက္သူမ်ားအျဖစ္ ရႈျမင္သုံးသပ္သူမ်ား ျဖစ္ၾကေလရာ လက္နက္ကုိင္ တုိင္းရင္းသားအဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားႏွင့္ ျငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးအစစ္အမွန္ကုိ ေဖာ္ေဆာင္ရန္ လုိအပ္ခ်က္ နည္းနည္းမွ်ပင္မရွိဟု ေတြးထင္ၾကသည္မွာ အံ့ၾသစရာမဟုတ္ပါ။ ထုိ႔အတူ အစုိးရ၏ ေလာေလာလတ္လတ္ ကမ္းလွမ္းခ်က္မ်ားကုိ ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးကုိ လုိလားေတာင့္တၾကေသာ ထုိတုိင္းရင္းသားအဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားကပင္ မယုံမၾကည္သံသယဝင္ၾကသည္မွာလည္း အံ့ၾသစရာမဟုတ္ပါ။

ကာကြယ္ေရးဦးစီးခ်ဳပ္ ဗုိလ္ခ်ဳပ္မွဴးႀကီး မင္းေအာင္လႈိင္သည္ စက္တင္ဘာလအေစာပုိင္းက က်င္းပခဲ့ေသာ ထိပ္သီးအစည္းအေဝးသုိ႔ မတက္ေရာက္ခဲ့ပါ။ သူသည္ ထုိအခ်ိန္က အစၥေရးသုိ႔ ေရာက္ေနၿပီး စစ္ဖက္ဆုိင္ရာ လက္နက္အေဆာက္အဦးမ်ားကုိ လွည့္လည္ၾကည့္ရႈေနခဲ့သည္။ ေဆြးေႏြးပြဲစကားဝုိင္းတြင္ ပါဝင္သူမ်ားက ေနျပည္ေတာ္တြင္ စုေဝးေနၾကခ်ိန္တြင္ပင္ ျမန္မာစစ္တပ္သည္ တဖက္က ရန္မစပါဘဲႏွင့္ ကခ်င္လြတ္ေျမာက္ေရးတပ္မေတာ္၏ တပ္မဟာ ၃ ကုိ တုိက္ခုိက္လ်က္ရွိသည္။

ေကအုိင္ေအ၏ ဒုတိယ ေခါင္းေဆာင္ ဗုိလ္ခ်ဳပ္ဂြမ္ေမာ္က ျငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးေဆြးေႏြးပြဲမ်ား ျပဳလုပ္ေနခ်ိန္တြင္ ထုိးစစ္မ်ား တၿပဳိင္နက္ ဆင္ႏႊဲတတ္သည္မွာ ျမန္မာစစ္တပ္၏ လုပ္ရုိးလုပ္စဥ္ အက်င့္တရပ္ ဆုိ၏။ သူ႕အဆုိ မွန္ပုံရသည္။ စစ္တပ္သည္ ရွမ္းျပည္ျပန္လည္ထူေထာင္ေရးေကာင္စီ ထိန္းခ်ဳပ္ေသာ ေဒသမ်ားကုိလည္း တုိက္ခုိက္လ်က္ရွိသည္။ ဤသည္မွာ လက္နက္ကုိင္အုပ္စုမ်ား အားလုံးမပါဝင္လွ်င္ပင္ ထုိအဖြဲ႕(ရွမ္းျပည္ျပန္လည္ထူေထာင္ေရးေကာင္စီ)အေနျဖင့္ အပစ္အခတ္ရပ္စဲေရးသေဘာတူညီခ်က္ကုိ လက္ခံမည္ျဖစ္ေၾကာင္း လူသိရွင္ၾကား ေၾကညာခဲ့ၿပီးသည့္ ေနာက္ပုိင္းတြင္ပင္ တုိက္ခုိက္ျခင္း ျဖစ္သည္။

ထုိသုိ႔ သမၼတက ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးအေၾကာင္း ေျပာၾကားေနစဥ္တြင္ အစုိးရစစ္တပ္မွ ထုိးစစ္မ်ား ဆင္ႏႊဲေနျခင္းသည္ စစ္တပ္ႏွင့္ အစုိးရအၾကား စိတ္ဝမ္းကြဲျပားမႈဟု အဓိပၸါယ္မေဆာင္။ ယင္းသည္ ျမန္မာအစုိးရ၏ မီးစတဖက္ ေရမႈတ္တဖက္ လုပ္သည့္ အကြက္တမ်ဳိးပင္ျဖစ္သည္။ တေအာင္းအမ်ဳိးသားလြတ္ေျမာက္ေရးတပ္မေတာ္၊ ရခုိင္တပ္မေတာ္ႏွင့္ ျမန္မာအမ်ဳိးသားဒီမုိကရက္တစ္မဟာမိတ္တပ္ေပါင္းစု စသည့္ အဖြဲ႕မ်ားကုိ တျပည္လုံးအပစ္ရပ္ေရးသေဘာတူညီခ်က္ထဲမွ ဖယ္ထုတ္ထားရန္ အစုိးရ၏ ႀကဳိးပမ္းခ်က္သည္ တုိင္းရင္းသားေတာ္လွန္ေရးအင္အားစုမ်ားအၾကား ေသြးခြဲကာ အႏုိင္ယူအုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ဖုိ႔ ႀကဳိးစားသည့္ အႀကံအစည္တရပ္ပင္ျဖစ္သည္။

ထုိ႔ေၾကာင့္ တုိင္းရင္းသားအဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားကလည္း သေဘာေပါက္ၾကသည့္အတုိင္း သံသယဝင္ၾကသည္။ ထုိအဓိပၸါယ္မွာ ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးဆီသုိ႔ေရွးရႈေသာ အမွန္တကယ္ တုိးတက္မႈကုိ ျပဳလုပ္လုိလွ်င္ အစုိးရအေနျဖင့္ ထုိအဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားကုိ စစ္ေရးအရ ႏွင့္ ႏုိင္ငံေရးအရ လုံေလာက္ေသာ အေလွ်ာ့ေပးမႈမ်ား အလွ်င္အျမန္ ကမ္းလွမ္းၿပီး အပစ္ရပ္ေရးသည္ လုပ္ငန္းသေဘာေဆာင္ေၾကာင္း တုိင္းရင္းသားမ်ား နားဝင္ယုံၾကည္လက္ခံလာေအာင္ လုပ္ေဆာင္ႏုိင္ဖုိ႔ လုိအပ္သည္။

စစ္တပ္အေနျဖင့္ စစ္ပြဲမ်ားကုိ ခ်က္ခ်င္းရပ္တန္႔သင့္သည္။ စစ္ပြဲေၾကာင့္ပိတ္မိေနသူမ်ားဆီသုိ႔၊ အထူးသျဖင့္ ကခ်င္ႏွင့္ ရွမ္းေဒသမ်ားဆီသုိ႔ လူသားဆန္ေသာအကူအညီမ်ားေရာက္ရွိေစရန္ ခြင့္ျပဳသင့္သည္။ ေနာက္ဆုံးလက္မွတ္သေဘာတူညီခ်က္တြင္ ပါဝင္ခြင့္ရေစရန္ ပဏာမလုိအပ္ခ်က္တရပ္အေနျဖင့္ အပစ္မရပ္ရေသးေသာ အဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားကုိ အစုိးရႏွင့္ ႏွစ္ဦးႏွစ္ဖက္အျပန္အလွန္ အပစ္ရပ္စဲေရးသေဘာတူညီမႈလက္မွတ္ကုိ အရင္ေရးထုိးရမည္ဆုိေသာ အစုိးရ၏ ေတာင္းဆုိခ်က္ကုိ စြန္႔လႊတ္ရမည္။ ကာကြယ္ေရးဦးစီးခ်ဳပ္က အပစ္ရပ္ေရးသေဘာတူညီခ်က္မူၾကမ္းပါ ျဖည့္စြက္ခ်က္အတုိင္း လုိက္နာမည္ဟု လူသိရွင္ၾကား ေၾကညာသည္။ ထုိစာရြက္စာတမ္းမွာ အမ်ားျပည္သူကုိ ေၾကညာရျခင္းမရွိေသး။

သုိ႔ေသာ္ ေတြ႕ဆုံညွိႏႈိင္းပြဲမ်ားတြင္ပါဝင္ေသာ တုိင္းရင္းသားလက္နက္ကုိင္အဖြဲ႕ႀကီးတခု၏ ထိပ္တန္းအႀကံေပးတဦး၏ အဆုိအရ ေနာက္ဆက္တြဲျဖည့္စြက္ခ်က္တြင္ တုိင္းရင္းသားအဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားကုိ လက္နက္စြန္႔ရန္ မတုိက္တြန္းမီ လုံၿခဳံေရးက႑တြင္ ျပဳျပင္ေျပာင္းလဲမႈမ်ား စတင္ေဖာ္ေဆာင္ရန္ ေဖာ္ျပထားသည္။

တုိင္းရင္းသားလူနည္းစုမ်ား၏ မယုံၾကည္မႈကုိ ေက်ာ္လႊားႏုိင္ရန္ အစုိးရအေနျဖင့္ တုိင္းရင္းသားေဒသမ်ားသုိ႔ အခြင့္အာဏာကုိ ပုိမုိ၍ လႊဲေျပာင္းေပးေဝရမည္။ တုိင္းရင္းသားမ်ား ပုိမုိ စိတ္ခ်ယုံၾကည္လာေစရန္ ခုိင္မာေသာ လုပ္ေဆာင္မႈတရပ္အေနျဖင့္ ကာခ်ဳပ္ ႏွင့္ သမၼတ ႏွစ္ဦးစလုံးသည္ တုိင္းရင္းသားေဒသမ်ား၏ ဝန္ႀကီးခ်ုပ္မ်ားကုိ သမၼတက ေရြးခ်ယ္ခန္႔အပ္သည့္ လက္ရွိက်င့္သုံးေနေသာ လုပ္ထုံးလုပ္နည္းကုိ အဆုံးသတ္ရန္ ယခုအခ်ိန္တြင္ မျဖစ္မေန ေဆာင္ရြက္ရမည္။ အပစ္ရပ္ေရးသေဘာတူစာခ်ဳပ္ ေနာက္ဆက္တြဲျပင္ဆင္ခ်က္တြင္ ျပည္နယ္ဝန္ႀကီးခ်ဳပ္မ်ားေရြးခ်ယ္ရန္ အခြင့္အာဏာကုိ ျပည္နယ္လႊတ္ေတာ္မ်ားသုိ႔ ေရႊေျပာင္းလႊဲအပ္ေၾကာင္း စာသားကုိ ထည့္သြင္းသင့္သည္။

ဤအႀကံျပဳခ်က္မ်ားသည္ အလွမ္းကြာလြန္းသည္ဟု ထင္ရေပမည္။ သုိ႔ေသာ္ အခ်ိန္ကာလအားျဖင့္ မွန္ကန္လွေပသည္။ အစုိးရသည္ ႏုိဝင္ဘာလ အေထြေထြေရြးေကာက္ပြဲမတုိင္မီ အပတ္အခတ္ရပ္စဲေရးသေဘာတူညီခ်က္စာခ်ဳပ္ လက္မွတ္ထုိးပြဲအခမ္းအနားကုိ က်င္းပရန္ ပုိင္းျဖတ္ထားပုံရေလသည္။ ဤသည္မွာ မဲေပးသူမ်ားအၾကား ႏွင့္ အျပည္ျပည္ဆုိင္ရာအလွဴရွင္မ်ားအၾကား ေပၚျပဴလာျဖစ္မႈကုိ ျမွင့္တင္ရန္လည္း တေၾကာင္းျဖစ္သည္။ ထုိေပၚျပဴလာျဖစ္မႈသည္ အစုိးရက ဝိဝါဒကြဲျပားဖြယ္ လုပ္ေဆာင္မႈအမ်ားအျပားကုိ လုပ္ေဆာင္ခဲ့ၿပီးေနာက္ က်ဆင္းလာခဲ့၍ျဖစ္သည္။ အစုိးရသည္ အာဏာရပါတီ၏ လစ္ဘရယ္ပုိျဖစ္ေသာ ေခါင္းေဆာင္ကုိ ဖယ္ရွားခဲ့သည္။ စစ္တပ္ကုိ ေဝဖန္ေသာ ကုိယ္စားလွယ္ေလာင္းမ်ားကုိ ပိတ္ပင္ရန္ ျခိမ္းေျခာက္ခဲ့သည္။ မြတ္စလင္လူနည္းစုျဖစ္ေသာ ရုိဟင္ဂ်ာမ်ား၏ မဲေပးပုိင္ခြင့္ကုိ ရုတ္သိမ္းခဲ့သည္။

အစုိးရ၏ လက္ရွိ ေပ်ာ့ကြက္သည္ ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံ၏ လက္နက္ကုိင္တုိင္းရင္းသားအုပ္စုမ်ားအတြက္ အဖုိးမျဖတ္ႏုိင္ေသာ အခြင့္အလမ္းတရပ္ျဖစ္သည္။ ယင္းတုိ႔အေနျဖင့္ ညီညြတ္စြာ ရပ္တည္ၾကရမည္။ တျပည္လုံးအပစ္ရပ္ေရးသေဘာတူညီခ်က္တြင္ လက္မွတ္ေရးထိုးမႈကုိ အားလုံးပါဝင္ခြင့္ရသည္အထိ၊ စစ္ေရးႏွင့္ႏုိင္ငံေရးဆုိင္ရာ အေလွ်ာ့ေပးမႈမ်ား တလုံးတခဲ ရရွိသည္အထိ ဆုိင္းငံ့ထားရမည္။ အစုိးရအေနျဖင့္ ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးလုိလားေၾကာင္း ေျပာသေလာက္ အေလးအနက္ရွိသည္ဆုိပါက ဖိႏွိပ္ဗုိလ္က်စုိးမုိးေရး စိတ္ဓါတ္ကုိ စြန္႔လႊတ္ၿပီး ကုိယ္ပုိင္အုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ခြင့္အခြင့္အာဏာ ပုိမုိရရွိေရးဟူသည့္ တုိင္းရင္းသားမ်ား၏ တရားနည္းလမ္းက်သည့္ ရည္မွန္းခ်က္ကုိ အသိအမွတ္ျပဳရေပမည္။

(ေမာင္ဇာနည္သည္ ျမန္မာျပည္မွ ႏုိင္ငံေရးတက္ၾကြလႈပ္ရွားသူတဦးျဖစ္သလုိ ကေမၻာဒီးယားႏုိင္ငံ Sleuk Rith Institute မွ ပညာရွင္တဦးလည္းျဖစ္သည္။)

The New York Times တြင္ စက္တင္ဘာလ ၂၄၊ ၂၀၁၅ ေန႔တြင္ ေမာင္ဇာနည္ ေရးသားသည့္ In Myanmar, Peace for Ethnic Rights ေဆာင္းပါးကုိ ကုိေအာင္ႏုိင္မုိးမွ ဆီေလ်ာ္ေအာင္ ဘာသာျပန္ထားသည္။ 

Buddhist monks in Myanmar celebrate repressive laws

A Buddhist monk looks at a makeshift anti-Muslim propaganda exhibition in Yangon [Joshua Carroll/Al Jazeera]

By Joshua Carroll
September 24, 2015

Muslim minority denounces new laws on population control, extra-marital relations, and mixed-religion marriages.

Yangon, Myanmar - Buddhist monks in Myanmar have begun a two-week victory celebration to applaud the passing of laws that many fear will damage women's rights and be used against religious minorities - including marginalised Muslims.

Hundreds of supporters from the ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha group formed a convoy of trucks and buses that snaked through the main city of Yangon on September 14 to welcome the introduction of four Race and Religion Protection Laws, which the group drafted itself. 

Human Rights Watch has said the bills, the last of which was signed into law late last month, place "unlawful" restrictions on people wishing to change religions, and could be used to force mothers to wait three years between each birth. 

The laws also outlaw extra-marital affairs and place restrictions on marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women. 

Ma Ba Tha's senior monks have been accused of stoking anti-Muslim violence with sermons preaching that Buddhism, the majority religion, is under threat from Islam.

"If necessary we must erect a fence with our bones," boomed a song from a truck-mounted speaker as the early-morning convoy left Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest site, on its way to a large monastery in the east of Yangon. 

The song became popular after Buddhist-led riots erupted in 2012, ultimately killing hundreds nationwide and displacing tens of thousands, mostly ethnic Rohingya Muslims. 

As Al Jazeera rode with the convoy, the driver of one truck screeched past and leaned out of his window to shout: "Don't follow us, go away! You'll be arrested."

Hard-line Buddhists 

The celebrations show Ma Ba Tha "asserting themselves and their newfound clout", said Khin Zaw Win of the Tampadipa Institute, a think-tank based in Yangon. 

They come less than two months before a landmark general election that will be seen as a test for Myanmar's reform process. 

A joint statement from nine embassies in Myanmar, including the US and Japan, warned against "religion being used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season". 

Since the military junta stepped aside in 2011, hard-line Buddhist groups have taken advantage of liberalisation to gain more and more influence in the country's politics. 

Analysts say the race and religion laws were rushed through parliament to avoid angering those groups. 

"At a time when Myanmar faces serious problems with its legal framework … it's hard to see why these laws should have been prioritised," said Sam Zafiri, Asia-Pacific director at the International Commission of Jurists. 

"Except for the obvious reason that they were called for by militant Buddhist groups like Ma Ba Tha," he said. 

Muslim candidates have been largely excluded from the upcoming election, in what also appears to be an attempt to assuage hardliners. 

The opposition National League for Democracy, widely expected to win the poll, failed to field a single Muslim candidate. Myanmar's election commission has rejected dozens of Muslims on citizenship grounds. 

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were disenfranchised earlier this year when the government withdrew the temporary citizenship cards that allowed them to vote.

At the Ti Pidaka Nikal monastery, a makeshift photo exhibition displayed images of atrocities committed by Muslims. 

One showed the Twin Towers in New York engulfed in flames, another the mutilated corpses of four people that the caption said were Hindus killed by Muslims in India. 

"The international media are saying Buddhists are aggressive and talking about Buddhist terror," said Lakana Thara, a monk, as he stood outside the photo exhibition. "But most of the violence and aggression is committed by Islamic groups."

As he spoke, dozens of monks and supporters clutching copies of the new laws filed in and out of the tarpaulin tent housing the photos. 

"We need monogamy," he said, referring to the Monogamy Bill, which criminalises extra-marital relationships. "A Muslim male can marry up to four women and they can force their women to change their religion." 

Another of the bills, the Buddhist Women's Special Marriage Law, is also based on the fear of men forcing their wives to convert. Activists have branded it sexist because it explicitly targets Buddhist women marrying outside their religion. 

One section gives local authorities the power to publicise an engagement and invite objections from members of the public that can be heard in court. 

"Because of this law, I'm not afraid," said Khine Khine Tun, Ma Ba Tha's head of international relations. 

"If I want to marry a man from another religion I can, but I don't need to give up my own religion," she said. 

Wai Wai Nu is a women's rights activist who is also a member of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority. "I think it is a very dangerous law," she said. "It can create a lot of challenges for women in Myanmar." 

A joint statement by Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists warned earlier this year that another of the four laws, the Population Control and Healthcare Bill, could lead to authorities carrying out forced abortions and sterilisation. 

The law aims to control populations in certain areas with "birth spacing", though the wording is unclear on whether this would be compulsory. 

It has nonetheless raised fears for Rohingya Muslim couples in northeastern Rakhine state, who have in the past been barred from having more than two children.

Thila Kanda Biwantha, Ma Ba Tha's Vice Secretary, is softly spoken and mild-mannered as he defends the population law while perched on a stage erected in the monastery's central courtyard. 

It was designed, he said peering through gold-rimmed glasses, to ease pressure on healthcare and education services in areas with high population growth. 

Soon the stage would be cleared for performances that included a speech on the history of Ma Ba Tha - founded in 2013 - and a young boy singing patriotic songs. 

Thila Kanda Biwantha has the calm, satisfied air of someone who has just scored a major victory. The festivities were a way of letting the public know about the laws, he said. 

"Myanmar is much safer now," he said. 

In Myanmar, Peace for Ethnic Rights



 
By Maung Zarni
September 24, 2015

For months, the government of Myanmar has been touting progress on a nationwide cease-fire deal, claiming it is a major step toward ending the country’s long-running armed conflicts. But the latest summit meeting on Sept. 9, attended by President Thein Sein and representatives of more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, ended inconclusively.

Some groups have refused to sign the agreement unless the government allows all of them to join it. The Kachin Independence Organization, the second-largest of the groups, is recalcitrant because three of its closest allies, which are still actively fighting the Myanmar Army in the country’s northeast, are being sidelined. 

Working out an accord acceptable to all the guerrillas was always going to be difficult given their differing interests. Some groups, like the Karen National Union, view the cease-fire as an economic opportunity, because it would open up access to the Asian Highway network that is being built; others, like the Kachin, are worried it will bring unwanted dam projects, excessive jade mining and more deforestation, and undermine their calls for a more federal system.

Yet the greatest obstacle to finalizing a comprehensive deal actually is the one thing these minority groups share: deep distrust of the Myanmar military, which they see as an occupying force with a neocolonialist mind-set.

They are right. I grew up in Mandalay in an extended military family. Like the vast majority of Myanmar’s people, we are Bamar and Buddhist, and have been imbued with a dominant culture that is distrustful of Muslims and condescending toward ethnic groups. For many minorities, Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948 was less a moment of emancipation than a shift to another form of oppression. Colonial subjugation morphed into centralized rule under a chauvinistic majority.

Almost seven decades later, Myanmar politics is inherently sectarian, and when the government isn’t downright exploitative of minorities, it is paternalistic and domineering. Small wonder that our military leaders, who see themselves as the guardians of national sovereignty, feel little need to pursue genuine peace with ethnic armed groups. Or that even those ethnic groups that seek peace are wary of the government’s recent overtures.

The commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, did not attend the summit meeting in early September; he was in Israel then, touring military facilities. Even as participants in the talks were gathering in Naypyidaw, the capital, the military was attacking Brigade 3 of the Kachin Independence Army, apparently unprovoked.

Gen. Gun Maw, the K.I.A.’s second-in-command, has said it is a pattern of behavior for the military to stage offensives at the same time that negotiations are underway. He seems to be correct: The army has also been attacking areas controlled by the Restoration Council of Shan State, even after the group publicly said it would accept the cease-fire deal regardless of whether all armed groups could join it.

That the army is waging strikes while the president is talking about peace does not reflect a split between the military and the executive branch; it is just the government’s version of playing good cop/bad cop. And the government’s attempt to leave some groups out of the nationwide cease-fire agreement — for instance, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army — is a ploy to divide and conquer the ethnic opposition.

With the ethnic armed groups understandably skeptical, the only way to make real progress toward peace is for the government to offer them some significant military and political concessions, and fast.

The army should immediately halt all hostilities and allow humanitarian relief to get through to war-trapped communities, especially in the Kachin and Shan areas. The government must also drop its demand that outlier groups sign bilateral cease-fire agreements as a precondition to their being included in the comprehensive accord. And the commander-in-chief must publicly declare that the military will abide by the addendum to the proposed cease-fire. The addendum has not been made public, but according to senior advisers to one major ethnic group that has been involved in the negotiations, it provides that the security sector will undertake reforms — including allowing some parliamentary oversight — before the ethnic groups are asked to disarm.

To overcome the distrust of minority groups, the government must also devolve more power to the ethnic areas. Both the commander-in-chief and the government should commit now to ending the current practice by which the president handpicks chief ministers for the country’s 14 regions and states. Text should be inserted into the addendum of the cease-fire deal stating that the authority to select chief ministers will be transferred to local legislatures, including in ethnic-majority areas.

These recommendations may seem like a tall order, but the moment is right. The government appears determined to arrange a signing ceremony for the ceasefire accord before the general election in November, partly to shore up its popularity with both voters and international donors, which dwindled after it took a series of controversial moves: The government has prevented the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, from running for president; sacked the relatively liberal head of the ruling party; banned statements critical of the military in state media during the campaign; and stripped Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, of their voting rights.

The government’s current vulnerability is a precious opportunity for Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups. They must stand together, and hold out on signing the nationwide cease-fire until all of them are included in the deal and they have secured concrete military and political concessions. If the government is as serious as it claims about wanting peace, it must let go of its oppressively majoritarian mind-set and recognize ethnic minorities’ legitimate aspirations for more autonomy.

Maung Zarni, a political activist from Myanmar, is a nonresident scholar with the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia.

The root cause of Rohingya persecution

Rohingya stranded off the coast of Thailand in May. Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP.

By Kyaw Win
September 15, 2015

How religious based ethno-nationalism is being used to oppress the minority group in Myanmar.

The mass exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar and their subsequent plight on the open ocean occupied the world’s attention for much of May.

Unfortunately, public and media attention was short lived and it is now back to business as usual.

While the media highlighted the dire situation of the Rohingya, it failed to identify the root cause of their persecution – religious based ethno- nationalism. It has made the Rohingya the most persecuted people in the world.

It is also the root cause of discrimination and the vulnerability of Myanmar’s Muslims and poses a serious challenge to the country’s democratic reforms.

Religious based ethno-nationalism is a mind-set instilled by successive dictators in Myanmar. It has been used to maintain power by gaining the trust and support of the majority at the expense of minorities.

It is a useful tool for the divide and rule strategy so popular with dictators. Thein Sein’s government has utilised it to foster anti-Muslim sentiment and institutionalise the persecution of Muslims, something which distracts from criticism of and anger at his government’s performance.

This mind-set has resulted in and been strengthened by inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric. For example, a popular claim in Myanmar is that Buddhism is threatened by a densely populated Muslim Bangladesh whose population wish to flood into Myanmar.

However, facts show that no threat really exists. Unfortunately the portrayal of Rohingya as intruders from Bangladesh has successfully inflamed hatred against Muslims.

Religious ethno-nationalism has also seen a move to remove the physical, legal and historical existence of the Rohingya from Myanmar. Systematic and institutionalised persecution has been used to achieve this. This by definition is genocide.

The annihilation of physical existence has been practiced through anti-Muslim pogroms, establishing discriminatory citizenship laws, creating dire living conditions, persecution, and targeting by security forces; tactics that are all deliberately designed to force individuals from their ancestral land.

Rohingya in Northern Arakan are living in an open prison, particularly in Aung Mingalar Ghetto in Sittwe (the capital city of Rakhine State). Their basic human rights are violated on a daily basis. For example, travel is restricted and permission is needed from the authorities to marry. Failure to comply, results in a long jail terms. Dire living conditions are a strong push factor for migrating Rohingya.

Health care services in Northern Arakan are appalling. According to a 2012 report from Action Contre La Faim, child morbidity is shockingly high.

The report also emphasised that there are only 42 nurses available for the whole of Northern Arakan meaning an average of one nurse per 18,400 people. Maungdaw Township has only one nurse for 58,000 people.

In contrast, the national average is one nurse for 304 people. Overall 21 Rural Health Centres are available and each centre covers a population of 38,000 people.

Rohingya also suffer direct persecution in the form of arbitrary arrest, torture, kidnapping and extrajudicial killing. In many cases, victim’s relatives are extorted and have to pay a ransom to have their loved ones released. Under such circumstances, the perilous sea journey offers a higher chance of survival.

The UNHCR reported that in 2014 some 150,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring countries with a further 25,000 escaping in the first quarter of 2015. Although 8,000 Rohingya refugees have been saved by Indonesia and Malaysia, where should the other 1.2 million Rohingya go and reside?

The persecution of this minority group has a long and dark history in Myanmar. In the past, lawmakers and historians collaborated to destroy the legal status and historical evidence of Rohingya people. This historical elimination is ongoing.

Rohingya and other ethnic Muslims were recognised as natives of Myanmar in the 1973 census, which recognised 143 ethnic groups in the country. Later the 1982 citizenship law delisted Muslims from ethnic groups with the exception of the Kaman.

The controversial 1982 citizenship law defined citizens as being Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and other ethnic groups that settled within the borders of Myanmar before 1823.

At the same time, Rakhine historians claim that Rohingya were slaves settled in Myanmar after the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1824 and are thus foreigners. The citizenship law and the assertion of historians is nothing more than institutionalised persecution with its origin in religious based ethno-nationalism (or Burmanisation).

Although solving the Rohingya crisis is complex and has various elements, addressing anti-Muslim sentiment is vital. The solution for the Rohingya crisis is unfeasible without addressing religious based ethno-nationalist bigotry in Myanmar.

Although interfaith events are being carried out in many places across the country, the idea of coexistence has not reached the grass-roots population. On the other hand, inflammatory hate speech, discrimination and violence are persistent with government support.

The international community needs to use anti- Muslim sentiment as a benchmark to measure the reforms and put pressure on Myanmar’s rulers – including the threat of sanctions.

They must also stress that Myanmar’s leaders are not exempt from their obligations of upholding fundamental human rights under customary international law and are liable to face consequences in the future.

Kyaw Win is Director of Burma Human Rights Network and Secretary of the Burmese Muslim Association.

Will Myanmar election be free and fair?



September 9, 2015

Campaigning for Myanmar's first general election since end to military rule began on Tuesday.



The polls in Myanmar will be the first since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011. But with the military still firmly in control of the process, there is widespread speculation as to whether the election will be free and fair. 

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from becoming President, even if her party, the National League for Democracy, wins in the vote. She has said a smooth transition is crucial.

But how smooth can it be? And will it usher in a new era in Myanmar? 

Presenter: Laura Kyle

Guests

Maung Zarni: a Myanmar scholar and dissident now living in the UK. Zarni was a former visiting scholar at London School of Economics and Harvard University. 

Gwen Robinson: chief editor of the Nikkei Asian Review. She's also a senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies.

OPINION: Divisive ceasefire won’t bring peace

Burmese government representatives and ethnic leaders sit for talks at Myanmar Peace Centre in Rangoon in August 2014. (PHOTO: DVB)

By Maung Zarni and Saw Kapi
September 8, 2015

On 9 September the top leaders of the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) and the three senior most negotiators representing the country’s ethnic alliance of 17 organisations, known as the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC), will travel to Naypyidaw to meet with Burmese President Thein Sein and military leaders to press for a genuinely inclusive ceasefire agreement that will have a truly positive impact nationwide.

The EAOs’ insistence that the ceasefire be genuinely inclusive and nationwide is not simply a matter of unrealisable ideals or principles from the perspective of the ethnic communities in conflict zones. Rather it is a very practical issue in that the EAOs have overlapping zones of operations, inter-ethnicity, and linked military ties and crisscrossing cultures. It is therefore inconceivable for any ceasefire agreement that excludes certain key groups to be a genuine step in the direction of lasting peace.

As a matter of fact, irrespective of complex histories and divergent interests, EAOs share a common view that the exclusionary nature of the current NCA offered by the government lacks any real potential for bringing an end to the world’s longest civil war.

This is one of the main reasons that leading opinion makers from Shan, Burmese and Karen communities – including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Hkun Htun Oo of the Shan National League for Democracy and David Tharkacbaw of the Karen National Union Alliance Affairs, have publicly cautioned against rushing into the signing of the deal – a rush being pushed by Naypyidaw. Why hurry to sign an agreement that has no real prospect of ending the wars that have soaked the country, some 51 million people, in conflict?

The ceasefire efforts are of course welcome news, and the final ceasefire text appears comprehensive, visionary and liberal – incorporating the notions of equality and dignity for all, at least rhetorically.

Why, then, are the Burmese public and specifically the ethnic minorities – who have borne the brunt of the war for over two generations, feeling lukewarm instead of euphoric about an imminent ceasefire?

The short answer is that neither the public at large nor the Senior Delegation of ethnic minority negotiators have appreciable confidence in the government of President Thein Sein as the architect of the ceasefire. The use of security forces on 12 August to remove the President’s inner-party rival, Thura Shwe Mann, from the influential Chair position of the ruling USDP reinforced the now popular view that the Thein Sein government is little more than the military’s civilianised proxy.

But the four year old quasi-civilian government, widely heralded as “reformist” and “pro-peace” unlike any of its military predecessors, is proving to be anything but genuinely reformist, benign or peace-oriented. Far from it, they are proving themselves to be reactionary.

With that said, the final ceasefire text – the outcome of hard-labor throughout nine rounds of negotiations in over 17 months, encapsulates virtually every issue important to minority communities in war zones. Its seven chapters and 33 articles cover a wide range of issues that are crucial for the success of post-conflict nation-building, including monitoring and enforcement of ceasefire agreements, restructuring and reforming the security sector informed by human rights principles, the usual disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of combatants, the revival of a federal system of government, respect for universal human rights, advancement of gender and ethnic equality, opposition to sexual violence and forced labor, separation of church and state and refrain from racist mobilisation for political gains, rehabilitation of war-impacted communities, humanitarian cooperation, environmental protection, celebration of cultural and linguistic diversity, educational plans, and sustainable development.

The agreement’s guiding principles echo celebrated liberal ideals such as liberty, equality, democracy and self-determination. No wonder then that the core nations that have been funding Burma’s peace process, including the EU, Japan and Norway, see the signing of this accord as historic progress towards peace.

During the last round of negotiations on 6 and 7 August, Burmese government representatives and the Senior Delegation representing the alliance of Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs), reportedly agreed on all contentious issues pertaining to the ceasefire except the inclusion of three important armed organisations, namely Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta-ng National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) and three smaller and un-armed ethnic opposition groups. The government seeks to play up the fact that it accepts 15 out of a total of 21 ethnic organisations, armed and unarmed, for ceasefire agreement signing.

From the perspective of ethnic minorities, the government’s refusal to include these three EAOs runs counter to the spirit – and definition – of a nationwide ceasefire, regardless of the official explanation. After all, these groups much prefer a political solution to their ethnic grievances to the continuation of armed conflicts and continue to make overtures of peace to the government.

To the minorities, the continuing clashes with the excluded groups will allow the active military activity to simmer on, with the potential for spillover into the ceasefire zones. Nai Hongsa, one of the key ethnic minority negotiators and leader of the Mon ethnic group, is quoted in the Burmese-language Irrawaddy magazine that “if these groups are attacked [by the government] we will have to help defend them as they are our military and political allies.”

Besides, it makes no sense for the government to exclude – or delay the inclusion of the Kokang Chinese group known as MNDAA that enjoys widespread nationalist support within the increasingly powerful China. For there is a strong reason to deny the nationalists in China a reason to support an armed ethnically Han Chinese group living along the porous Sino-Burmese borders.

The Arakan Army and Palaung ethnic group’s TNLA armed organisation are seen by the government as the creations of one of the most defiant and best-armed group, namely the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which previously signed the only written bilateral ceasefire with the military government- a ceasefire which collapsed when Thein Sein came to power in 2011.

The Arakan Army has great potential for troop expansion, given that there are estimated 200,000 Rakhine, mostly men, working in the commercially lucrative Kachin state where the KIA is headquartered and AA is based. Besides, the ethnic Rakhines with their coastal ancestral land in Western Burma have centuries-old historical grievances against the colonizing Burmese rulers from the central plains. So, not pursuing a ceasefire with the AA, which is expanding its operations in the already conflict-ridden Rakhine state, further undermines the government’s credibility in peace making.

This gap between the government’s reformist, pro-peace rhetoric and its coercive and contradictory deeds remains the most formidable barrier to the ceasefire as genuinely nationwide and inclusive enough to put out the fire of ethnic and political grievances among the country’s sizable ethnic minorities, estimated as at least 40 percent of the population.

The government has freed the country’s iconic dissidents, most noticeably the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, opened up the parliamentary system welcoming Suu Kyi as an MP, relaxed media censorship and normalised historically troubled international relations with the West. However, behind this reform process, the government has consistently resorted to violence, coercion and other heavy-handed approaches characteristic of the previous military dictatorships. A cursory look at the government’s track record of four years in handling land rights activists protesting against the confiscation of farm lands, fiercely independent local journalists, student activist, labor organisers, Buddhist monk protesters against the ecologically disastrous Chinese mega-mines, not to mention its systematic persecution of the Rohingya, effectively shatters the image of Burma’s government as the pursuer of peace and reconciliation.

Even leaving aside the nearly half-century of the painful memories of war crimes and human rights atrocities, the current government’s credibility gap since it assumed state power with the military’s backing four years ago, is a growing barrier to peace. The beautifully worded ceasefire agreement and word of its imminent signing does not trigger nationwide welcome or jubilation.

For the wider public and the ethnic communities in war zones are sticking with what they know: understanding Thein Sein’s reforms and the military’s offer of ‘discipline flourishing democracy’ as window dressings performed so that the military can tango with western business and governments. The nationwide ceasefire sadly may prove to be more such spin to keep the mirage of change alive.

Importantly, one of the authors is from the dominant Burmese majority – from a large military clan whose members include the very first commanding officer to the now semi-retired Snr-Gen Than Shwe and a VIP military pilot for his predecessor, the late despot Gen. Ne Win. The Burmese author can confess how colonial we Burmese typically are in the way we perceive, treat and relate to the rest of the country’s ethnic peoples.

Burma’s leaders, particularly generals past and present, lack both genuine acceptance of multi-ethnic peace on equal terms and an appreciation for the decades of bitter experiences of war-torn communities. Without these two essential pillars, sustainable peace in my country of birth is not conceivable, formal ceasefire or not.

Maung Zarni is a Burmese dissident and a scholar with 27-years of involvement in Burmese politics.

Saw Kapi is a Karen educator and an adviser to the Leader of the Senior Delegation negotiating ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government on behalf of the EAOs.

Election campaigning kicks off in Myanmar in first contested general election

September 8, 2015

More than 90 political parties have taken part in the parliamentary campaign, which are being closely watched as the next step toward democracy. Myanmar had been run by a military junta for 50 years.



Campaigning in Myanmar officially opened Tuesday with politicians turning to pictures, buzzwords and personalities to mark themselves out.

The November 8 polls will be the first since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011. But with the military still firmly in control of the process, there is widespread speculation as to whether the election will be free and fair.

Parties have taken to using brightly colored images featuring fighting peacocks, lions and bamboo hats to dazzle voters and attract attention. Despite relatively high levels of literacy in the nation of 53 million people, the run-up to the vote has been notable for the absence of any debate or policy platforms.

Maung Zarni, a Myanmar analyst based in Britain, is concerned the elections could prove a wasted opportunity to educate a public unfamiliar with electoral debate.

"In some places people won't even know the name of the candidate (when they vote) but this is also driving unhappiness among more informed voters who want to know about policy," Zarni told the AFP news agency.

High expectations for opposition National League for Democracy

The polls will still be the first time opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has contested a general election in 25 years.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party will take part in the elections after boycotting the 2010 polls

"For the first time in decades, our people will have a real chance of bringing about real change," Suu Kyi said, in a message posted on her party's Facebook page. "We hope that the whole world understands how important it is for us to have free and fair elections."

The NLD is expected to make impressive gains at the expense of the ruling party, and may even win a majority. The last time the NLD took part in a national election was in 1990 when it won by a landslide.

But the results were annulled by the ruling military junta which arrested Suu Kyi and put her under house arrest for 15 years where she was held virtually incommunicado.

The party boycotted the nationwide poll in 2010 because their leader, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was still under house arrest and barred from taking part.

International observers condemned 2010 polls for widespread irregularities.

After the democratic reforms of 2011, in which the ruling military elite shed uniforms and began running as electoral candidates, a by-election was held in 2012.

Her party entered the race, winning 43 of the 44 seats it contested - including Suu Kyi's first elected post as a member of parliament.

"We hope to take our country to that point where there can be no return from genuine development in the democratic direction," Suu Kyi said in the video message Tuesday. "Please help us by observing what happens before the elections, during the elections and, crucially, after the elections."

INTERVIEW: Hkun Htun Oo, ‘The NCA should be all-inclusive’

Shan Nationalities League for Democracy leader Hkun Htun Oo. (PHOTO: MYANMAR NOW)

September 7, 2015

Hkun Htun Oo, 72, is an ethnic Shan politician and leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), one of the largest parties in Shan State. He spent many years in prison for his political activities after the SNLD, known locally as the Tiger Head Party, was one of the major winners in the parliamentary elections in 1990, the results of which were ignored by the military government.

Hkun Htun Oo and his party boycotted the flawed 2010 general elections, but on 8 November they will contest in Shan State, Kayah State [Karenni] and Mandalay Region, with the aim of securing 46 Lower House, 14 Upper House and 96 regional legislature seats. The party leader himself decided not to run in the polls.

In a recent interview with Myanmar Now reporter Htet Khaung Linn, Hkun Htun Oo talked about the elections, the federalist aspirations of Burma’s ethnic groups and the ongoing ceasefire negotiations between ethnic armed groups and the government.

Question: Why did you decide not to run in the elections though your party is contesting many constituencies in Shan State?

Answer: Many of our party representatives will be in parliament. For me, I would like to work in tandem with other political forces that are working outside of parliamentary politics. Constitutional reform is something that all political forces – those working inside and outside the parliament – have to work on by collaborating with each other. Efforts within parliament to strive towards that have recently failed. So, I believe that we have to find a way to work outside the parliamentary framework in cooperation with other political forces to achieve that [reform].

Q: What is your perspective on cooperating with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD) in this election and beyond?

A: We used to work together with the NLD. We even joined the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament formed by the NLD in 1998 [as the army ignored the 1990 election results]. The cooperation with the NLD benefited us. Some NLD leaders even recently informed me that the party won’t field candidates in areas where we are contesting in light of our comradeship. I was grateful for that, as it is inappropriate for the NLD to take it all, since this would generate misunderstanding on the part of the ethnic parties. The NLD might do well to take the UNA [United Nationalities Alliance, a coalition of 12 ethnic parties] into account; my advice for the NLD is to collaborate with the UNA in the future.

Q: But the NLD said it is now contesting in all ethnic constituencies, including those in Shan State. What do you think of that decision?

A: That’s part of being a democracy. If we say ‘you can’t come and compete in our areas because we want no rival,’ then that is not genuine democracy. We also need to care about the public’s freedom to choose [a party]. We need to open up choices for the public. There are many [ethnic politicians] who tend to complain about the NLD’s plan to compete in their areas. But nobody is blaming the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the same way.

I am not defending the NLD. It is imperative that honest and qualified leaders emerge and work for our country. I don’t wish to say who should and should not run in a particular area. Even if our party wins in an area, it wouldn’t do much if the elected legislator representing us is not on a par with the legislators of other parties in terms of qualifications. We need to have genuine competition and respect the public’s choice.

Q: How do you think SNLD will fare in the election compared to your main rival, Shan Nationalities for Democratic Party (SNDP)?

A: The SNDP is our main rival in Shan State, where we are contesting 50 parliamentary seats. Even though we did not compete in the 2010 and 2012 elections, we started organisational activities three years ago. I don’t wish to criticise other parties but as far as we’ve gauged, we stand very well in the public opinion. Another thing is we’ve never been embroiled in financial scandals and never had a bad reputation. That’s why about 10 active MPs representing the other party (SNDP) left theirs and joined our party – as did ordinary members of that party. Unlike the other party, we don’t require the party candidates to give $4,000 or so in compensation to the party if they were to switch to another party.

Q: Recently, Shwe Mann was purged as USDP chairman by President Thein Sein in a nighttime incident involving armed police forces. What’s your view of this development?

A: I don’t wish to comment on the party’s internal divisions, but I would like to say the procedures undertaken [during the purge] are wrong. [Shwe Mann] is the speaker of the Union Parliament while [his rival] is the president of the country. What is the point of security forces surrounding the party’s headquarters? Were there people inside the party headquarters armed with sticks and swords, or exchanging gunfire, so much so that the police needed to intervene?

The allegation against [Shwe Mann] was that he was forging an alliance with the opposition [NLD] party. It’s quite natural for parties to ally with each other because there are no rules barring that. Everyone wonders what kind of democracy we are having when you order the speaker of parliament to stay inside his home. After observing this incident, the ethnic armed groups will think twice about signing ceasefire deals with the government as they can consider what might happen to them later.

Q: So far, five armed ethnic groups have declared that they would like to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord with the government, while other groups have been hesitant. What do you think will happen in the ceasefire process?

A: My understanding is that the nationwide ceasefire agreement must be all-inclusive. If the group signs the deal then all other groups should follow suit. That was the consensus the armed ethnic groups achieved in the Laiza conference [in Kachin State in 2014] and Law Khee Lah base conference in Karen State.

Now it seems that six ethnic armed groups haven’t decided whether to sign it, while fighting still continues between government forces and smaller armed ethnic groups like the Kokang, Arakan Army and Ta’ang (Palaung) and Lahu. If these groups are not signing the ceasefire agreement, then it calls into question how lasting the peace would be. To me, I find no issue at all with all these armed groups coming onboard to sign the ceasefire agreement with the government. We have experienced all the discriminatory tactics [of the government]. So, we need to allow smaller armed groups, even if it is formed with just 50 people, to sign the ceasefire too. [Editor’s note: The government is refusing to let some armed groups sign as they are considered too small, or still actively fighting the army.]

Q: There are a number of pro-government People’s Militias in Shan State. Would they pose challenges to the political parties, including yours, during the campaign period and on election day?

A: First, our party has no relation with these groups. As far as I know, these groups are not opposed to our policies. During a recent campaign visit in the town of Kalaw in Kayah State, a People’s Militia group there heartily welcomed us into their office and expressed support for our demands for greater equality among all ethnic groups.

Q: Currently, some ethnic armed groups are relying on natural resources in their areas. What is your opinion on sharing revenues of natural resources in the ethnic areas after a ceasefire is signed? How can it be done?

A: The parliamentary proposal on this topic of decentralisation and distribution of natural resources did not win support. Some ethnic MPs called for power decentralisation and a system of sharing [revenues from] natural resources, 75 percent of which would be for local ethnic groups and the remaining 25 percent for the central government. The proposal was a failure.

Forests have been wiped out, leaving nothing for the locals. That has been the case in both Kachin and Shan states. The same happened in the mining sector – gold mines and gems mines [are being depleted]. This will continue to create discontent among the local populations. The focal point is to amend the 2008 constitution [to improve resource sharing], as the ethnic people bear the brunt of [resource exploitation].

Q: If the ruling USDP party managed to form a government after the November elections, what would this mean for the federalist aspirations of the ethnic groups?

A: If that is the outcome, then it would be challenging to hope for a federal union. The idea of forming a federal army would not translate into reality, nor can we achieve a genuine federal system. The federal system we will end up with may be ‘Burmese-style’ federalism – we have already seen what ‘Burmese-style socialism’ and ‘Burmese-style democracy’ looks like. If there won’t be the genuine federal union that the ethnic people have demanded, fighting would resume, undeterred by any sort of ceasefire agreement.

Q: It seems that the incumbent President Thein Sein is hoping for a second term. What do you think of his attempt to stay in power and what would it mean for Burma?

A: The military representatives [25 percent of the legislature] might nominate him as a presidential candidate. But the country remains plagued by corruption and the legal system is still fragile. President Thein Sein did not manage to tackle these problems. A host of other issues, like land grabs, political prisoners, detained students and environmental problems, pose great challenges to the country. It’s time for all of us to contemplate how to achieve lasting peace. All these issues weren’t resolved and even worsened during the past five years under the rule of President Thein Sein.

Muslim candidates fear no shot at the polls

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin and Ye Mon With AFP
September 7, 2015

With the finalised candidate list expected to be released today, barred Muslim election hopefuls fear not a single one of them will be left to contend the looming polls, leaving no one to represent what many estimate is Myanmar’s largest religious minority.

Lower house MP U Shwe Maung talks to reporters during a press conference on September 4. (Aung Khant/The Myanmar Times)

The Union Election Commission’s scrutiny process has scrubbed 88 candidates from the list, with citizenship complaints the most frequently cited cause for disqualification. Around one-third of the rejected candidates – at least 30 – are Muslim contestants, mainly hailing from Rakhine State.

Leaders of Muslim parties said they have tried every avenue for appealing the disqualifications, including heaps of paperwork proving their eligibility. But none of it has prevailed so far.

“The final decision will be made on September 7 [before the candidate campaign period begins]. We hope to get good results, but we understand it won’t be a fair trial,” said U Zaw Min, chair of the National Development and Peace Party, which has had all six of its candidates nixed due to allegations their parents were not citizens at the time of the candidates’ birth. All have sent appeals to the state commission with the relevant paper trail attached.

“We can show the right documents if they ask, but they don’t take that into account. We feel that our rights have been violated under this so-called democratic government,” he said.


A lower house parliamentarian elected in 2010 during the ruling party’s courting of the Muslim vote, U Shwe Maung was axed from the Union Solidarity and Development Party and then blocked from running as an independent. The election commission found him and the other Muslim independent running in Buthidaung, Daw Khin Khin Lwin, ineligible on the grounds that their parents were not valid citizens at the time of their birth.

U Shwe Maung says the accusation – which was brought against him by his ethnic Rakhine political rival – is ridiculous as his father was a senior police officer, and he also passed scrutiny in 2010, when the political atmosphere was more amenable to Muslim candidates.

“The [state] commission rejected my appeal without taking even 10 seconds to check my documents. While they were hearing my case, I requested they look up my documents but they said there was no need to check,” the MP said, adding that the sidelining of Muslim parliamentarians would make the elections “unfree and unfair”.

“How many times do we need approval?” he said.

But the barring of Muslim candidates is just one part of the larger ostracisation of the Muslim community ahead of the elections. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim voters, including in Muslim-majority communities, have been struck from electoral rolls amid ever-increasing pressure from ultra-nationalist hardline groups with an avowed mission to disenfranchise those they regard as foreign intruders. The New York Times reported on August 23 that up to 500,000 Royinga voters in Rakhine State found their names missing from the voter lists, despite many having participated in previous polls.

In February of this year, parliament enacted a referendum law that would enable those holding white cards to vote, a decision that instigated public outcry and a swift reversal of both the voting plan and the white cards, which were invalidated.

The largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy, did not field a single Muslim candidate among its over 1000 submissions, according to a senior party member.

“People see this as religious discrimination,” the party member told AFP, adding that party chair Daw Aung San Suu Kyi “must be afraid” of the hardline monks.

Meanwhile, parties purporting to represent the Muslim community have had most if not all their candidates disqualified. The Democracy Human Rights Party has had so few candidates pass the citizenship stumbling block that they may be disqualified from the elections. The election law prohibits parties with fewer than three candidates from contesting the vote, which some allege is being used to oust parties without explicitly barring them.

“This strategy of deliberate disenfranchisement is a win-win for the government and its proxy [the] UEC,” said London-based scholar and activist U Maung Zarni. “The Muslims in Myanmar are already anxious and scared for the safety of their communities across the country, generally speaking.”

“If the disenfranchised Muslims … take to the streets or show their displeasure in any aggressive or public manner, the military will use U Wirathu and his Islamophobic networks such as the Ma Ba Tha to counter the Muslim protests,” he said.

Political commentator U Sithu Aung said the burden of citizenship proof for Muslim and opposition candidates was unreasonably high. “Even for me it is impossible to show the status of my parent’s citizenship before I was born. It is a very complicated issue,” he said.

"In Myanmar, only lip service is paid to Rohingya rights; business is the priority"

By Chris Burns
September 4, 2015

Nearly a decade and a half ago, blogger-activist Nay San Lwin fled his native Myanmar to campaign for the rights of his fellow Rohingya. Lwin says the predominantly Muslim ethnic group is being largely ignored as the Burmese regime’s relations warm with an outside world eager to do business with the petroleum-rich country.

This year thousands of Rohingya fled worsening persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh to neighbouring south-east Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 25,000 left in boats from January to March alone. Lwin accuses the Myanmar government of “systematic ethnic cleansing.”

Lwin’s blog, Rohingya Blogger, provides regular updates on conditions inside Myanmar. Lwin credits UN Special Envoy and actress Angelina Jolie for trying to raise consciousness and faults foreign governments as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a lack of support. He spoke by phone with Equal Times from his home in Frankfurt, Germany.

Nay San Lwin, blogger and activist for Rohingya rights.

How do you blog from afar?

I have a team there....Every day there are human rights violations, extortion, torture, harassment and the sexual abuse of women.

How has the situation changed?

With the previous military government, people had their registration cards. All Rohingya were official. Now they’ve taken away our cards and given us a green card for two years. Within two years you have to apply for citizenship. But we are entitled to full citizenship.

What kind of access are international observers getting?

The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar (Yanghee Lee) was denied access to Rakhine state (where there is a significant Muslim minority – including Rohingya – amongst the Buddhist majority). Not even Angelina Jolie was allowed to go there. The government said weather conditions were very bad due to a cyclone at the end of July... but it was just a lame excuse. If Jolie made a visit to a refugee camp, it would be big publicity for the Rohingya people.

What does the government want to hide?

They want to hide the latest situation because of all the flood damage [editor’s note: severe floods hit the country from July onwards. Over one million people have been affected]. and all the refugees. The government is not providing any aid. The Myanmar commander didn’t meet with any Rohingya people, he didn’t give any aid. The problem was before the cyclone, because the World Food Program reduced the rations by 15 percent due to budget. With the aid from UNICEF, the government put its label on all the aid: “by the Myanmar government.” They are cheaters.

What do you think of the upcoming election?

There’s an election on 8 November, but temporary cardholders can’t vote. In 2010, five Rohingya MPs were elected. Now the ruling party and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party have refused any Muslim candidates. All these (foreign) governments, they are all waiting for after the election. They want to see Aung San Suu Kyi as president of Burma. But she cannot change the constitution. The government is not willing to change the constitution. Will she do something for the Rohingya? I don’t think so. Many of her party members were with a racist movement and she didn’t’ say anything. Most of her party members are against the Rohingya because of our religion. The Buddhist Dai-Net (ethnic group) speak Rohingya, and they got their citizenship.

How can the international community put pressure on the Myanmar government to help bring about change?

European governments keep condemning this violence and discrimination – the US government has done the same. But the problem is Aung San Suu Kyi was very positive to this general (President and former general Thein Sein), and asked the European and US governments to lift the sanctions. Due to fact the sanctions are lifted, the Burmese government no longer cares. They say the Rohingya people are illegal immigrants. Now after almost three years, they are not doing anything to restore the citizenship of the Rohingya people as they promised. The international community need to impose sanctions again. But nobody will do that, so we have to suffer more. They are pulling for time. They all invested already, there are a lot of projects [here in Myanmar]. They put business on top and give human rights lip service; they don’t do anything for human rights.

When will you return home?

I have no hope. My grandfather was a government civil servant, I come from a family of civil servants. We used to be citizens of Burma but our family passports were burned by a Burmese official. My parents went to the UK. I am a German resident.

If the situation changes, will you return to Myanmar?

Yes.

"We will fence our nation with our bones": The rise and rise of Myanmar's "Buddhist" Nazism

Demostrators demand immediate passage of the nationalities protection bills at the terrace of Eindawya Pagaoda in Mandalay on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. (Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy) 

Question:

What do #Myanmar's 'defenders of race and faith sing​' on Buddha Gotama's Enlightenment Day (billed as "Metta or Loving Kindness Day) - 30 Aug 2015. 

Answer:

Nazi-like song full of hatred, anger, ignorance and racism (Listening repeatedly to it for transcribing and translating it gave me goose-bumps and I felt chill down my spines for the non-Buddhists, especially Muslims). 

Watch it here in the original Burmese (the translation of the song is below):


My rough translation of the ultra-nationalist song sung as part of the national celebration, ironically, to commemorate the Day when Gotama Buddha was thought to have gained (spiritual) Englightenment.

The following fb post, a 1:31 minute video clip of a live song - at the FB account named "victorious nobel race" is "liked", so far, over 13,000 times and shared by 1,200.

I would give it the following title:

"We will fence our nation with our bones"

Buddha's Wisdom shines over our land
xxx
In defence of Bama race and Buddhist faith we will stand at the front line.
These people (the infidels/Muslims) live on our (Buddhist) soil.
They drink our water.
They break our rules.
They suck our wealth.
And they insult us the host.
They destroy our youth.
Alas, they are just one ungrateful, worthless creatures.

We are one Buddhist brotherhood, now joining hands as One.
We shall pledge to join hands as One.
We do pledege to join hands as One.
We will be loyal and faithful to our Race and our (Buddhist) Faith.

We will only do business with those who share our Buddhist faith.
We will only marry those who share our Buddhist faith.

Hey, shall we
talk about our national affairs.
Let our nationalist consciousness awake!

(Chorus)
We will fence our nation with our bones.
If you show us your (hateful) sword
We will surely reciprocate in kind.

We will fence our nation with our bones.
If you show us your (hateful) sword
we will surely reciprocate in kind.

We will fence our nation with our bones.
If you show us your (hateful) sword
We will surely reciprocate in kind.

​========================

Dear Friends,

After the eruption of the state-backed mass violence against the Rohingya - and Muslims - in Rakhine or Arakan State of Western Burma or Myanmar in June and Oct 2012, I began using the word Nazi-like, neo-Nazi, Fascist, etc in characterizing the alarming racist developments, including violent speech and acts of violence - all carried out with the blanket IMPUNITY of the state authoties at the highest level. 

Both the sincerely naive and the witting apologists among the English speaking circles - Burma watchers, academics and journalists - wrote my characterization as simply 'hyperboles' coming from a 'spoiler'. (I am a 'spoiler' because I refused to jump on the Myanmar band wagon of lauding the 'reforms' and licking the crumbs or chewing the bones that result from this process and I bark incessantly at what I saw as a scene where vultures of all stripes and colors hover or drive on to my country - which to me seems increasingly like a decaying corpse or animal carcas). 

In September 2012, I flew from Brunie where I was living and working to Bangkok to participate in a web-cast event on the rise of "Buddhist" nationalism in Burma at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. A long time Burma journalist Larry Jagan asked what I thought of President Thein Sein who was at the time unquestionably Myanmar's Man of the Hour, with "his" widely applauded "reforms". My answer, without any equivocation, was: "a world class liar" or to borrow The Economist's characterization of Tony Blair, "a sincere deceiver".

Sadly, some of my closest long-time friends have been involved in manufacturing and marketting Thein Sein, a graduate of the Defense Services Academy In-Take-9 (1967?), as "listerner-in-chief", "a good man", 'the best chance for peace", etc. 

Recent events have un-masked the real Thein Sein, a longest-serving loyal functionary of the aging despot Senior General Than Shwe whose soft-spokenness belies his ruthless, sinister, deceptive and calculating core. 

Within the Burma army, good soldiers do NOT get promoted. A brief detour on Thein Sein as a 'world class liar' aside, the country is definitely taking a Nazi turn: mainstreaming of Islamophobia, the active participation of the state - from local to the highest level of leadership (President Thein Sein and his office) in promoting and mobilizing anti-Muslim racism, the Legislature (the military-controlled parliament), the flagship opposition of the NLD and its Nobel Prize winning racist icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and the societally and culturally powerfully Buddhist Sangha or Order, the 

religion- and race-focused laws, etc. all point to how different "components" of Myanmar's society, religious and political establishments are morphing into Nazi-like entities.

The difference amongst these components are in degree, not in kind.

With that most disturbing backdrop, I have put together a small collection of deeply disturbing stories which point to an emergence of a soiety and a political system that can only be described as Nazi-esque. No two historical incidences of Fascist developments are identical. 

However, the idelogical pattern, the uses of law, violence, mass culture, dominant religion, patriotism, mainstream politics of difference (racism), democratic process, demagoguery, mobilization of public frustration towards political/strategic ends, etc. and the instrumental role of state organs, etc. 

Three years on, I stand by my choice of characterization of my own birthplace - once the anchor of my consciouness and existence as neo-Nazi "Buddhist" country and its Nazi-like racism and racist society and politics. 

It takes an extraordinary degree of delusions and self-deception to use the word 'progress' in reference to my country. 

The worst is as yet to come.

Best,

zarni

1) Buddhist And Muslim Relations Underly Southeast Asia Refugee Crisis
US National Public Radion, 31 Aug 2015

2) Buddhist And Muslim Relations Underly Southeast Asia Refugee Crisis
August 31, 2015 5:38 AM ET, Myanmar Times


3) ationalists mark anniversary of divisive state religion bill

By Aung Kyaw Min | Tuesday, 01 September 2015


4) Anti-Muslim Buddhist group moves toward Myanmar's mainstream


YANGON, Sept 1 | By Timothy Mclaughlin and Hnin Yadana Zaw

5) Myanmar President Signs Off on Law Seen as Anti-Muslim

Reuters, 31 Aug 2015


6) In Myanmar, Rohingya candidates barred from election

John Zaw, Mandalay
Myanmar, August 31, 2015

September 1, 2015



7) NLD Blocked Muslim Candidates to Appease Ma Ba Tha: Party Member



8) Myanmar's backsliding leads to doubt about U.S. diplomacy strategy


9) The Wall Street Journal

Buzz over post-sanctions Myanmar fades for many U.S. investors

August 31, 2015


Many people thought this would become one of the hottest new markets for American capital a few years ago, when the country began opening to the West after decades of military rule.

Instead, Myanmar has been a letdown for many investors—especially Americans. Many have already pulled out after opportunities failed to materialize.

It was “not worth risking our reputation” in Myanmar, said Ryan Manicom, a head of business development for Holloman Corp., a Houston oil & gas services firm. His company shut its country office this year after it took longer than expected for the government to open more natural gas to foreign players. Holloman also worried about local safety standards, he said.

Disenchantment with the business climate comes as concerns are spreading about Myanmar’s political future.

Although officials say a national election planned for early November will be free and fair, doubts have deepened since the main military-backed party this month purged a presidential hopeful who was linked to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms. Suu Kyi is barred by Myanmar’s constitution from becoming president, even though she is widely regarded as the most popular politician.

Numerous construction projects for new hotels, offices and condominium buildings in Yangon have stalled, as investors wait for clearer investment rules and to see how the dust settles after the November election.

Officials in Myanmar, also known as Burma, say the government is learning how to implement market overhauls and that the investment climate will improve.

This “is the transition period from military government to democracy government,” and from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, said Soe Thane, minister in charge of economic affairs in the office of President Thein Sein.

Still, disappointment with the way Myanmar has played out since its former military junta stepped down in 2010 is palpable among many U.S. business leaders.

The U.S. began easing sanctions—first imposed in the 1990s—in 2012. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on U.S. companies to “invest in Burma and do it responsibly,” adding, “let’s all work together to create jobs, opportunity, and support reform.”

The economy has grown relatively rapidly since then and people have gained more civic freedoms, including the right to protest. A more robust media developed as harsh censorship laws were lifted.

Yet leaders dragged their feet on fully opening some sectors that Western investors wanted, including financial services and real estate. Officials say they’ve had to strike a balance between protecting domestic enterprises and welcoming foreign companies.

Other challenges include Yangon rents that spiked to levels on par with Singapore, one of the world’s richest cities, because of a shortage of modern space. Lack of financial services like wire transfers forced companies to bring cash in by truck or air.

Washington, meanwhile, has in many ways made it hard for U.S. firms to do business in Myanmar, even as it encouraged U.S. companies to go there.

The Obama administration added requirements that forced U.S. firms to make extensive public disclosures if they invested more than $500,000. It also kept some sanctions in place in case the government backtracked on its promised overhauls.

The U.S. Treasury maintained its blacklist prohibiting Americans from doing business with an estimated 200 individuals and entities linked to the former military junta. Any U.S. firm needing a local partner had to make sure no one involved was on the list.

Eric Rose, a U.S. lawyer who opened a branch of his firm, Herzfeld & Rubin, in Yangon, says about half of Myanmar’s economy is controlled by the military and another 20% is dominated by blacklisted cronies, effectively making 70% of Myanmar off-limits.

Wary of Washington’s mixed signals, American banks kept blocking some transactions involving the country. Citibank Inc. and others made exploratory trips but decided not to do more there.

Six foreign banks have branches in Myanmar and dozens more have representative offices, but none are American.

A Citigroup spokesperson says it has assisted clients making payments into Myanmar “after ensuring full compliance” with U.S. rules and will keep monitoring the situation.

Europe, by contrast, lifted all its sanctions by 2013.

Carlsberg A/S and Heineken NV invested in breweries there, while Nestlé SA and Unilever PLC set up manufacturing plants. Adidas AG and Hennes & Mauritz AB are sourcing garments from the country. Britain’s BG Group is investing more than a billion dollars in oil exploration with an Australian partner.

A few big U.S. companies have entered, including Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Coca-Cola Co., which intends to spend up to $200 million here over the next few years. Gap Inc. has started sourcing garments from Myanmar and a two-story KFC outlet opened in June.

These U.S. multinational brands have large compliance teams to guide them in extreme-frontier locations. As early movers some were able to lock up relationships with local partners who aren’t on U.S. blacklists.

But Rehan Khan, Coca-Cola’s country manager, said the company is still having trouble delivering its product in many places because of supply-chain problems.

Gap has kept its sourcing small in Myanmar, limiting it to two factories outside Yangon. It sources “more than 100 times” more clothing from Vietnam, a spokesperson said.

The U.S. has declined to lift import duties, meaning companies like Gap have to pay as much as 17% in tax when bringing goods home. The European Union in 2013 granted Myanmar products duty-free and quota-free access to Europe.

Officially, U.S. firms have invested just $2 million in Myanmar since 2011, according to Myanmar government statistics, though that doesn’t include an undetermined amount spent through regional offices in Singapore.

China has invested $5.2 billion since 2011. The U.K. has spent $1.3 billion and the Netherlands $312 million.

“It is almost like (Washington is) telling us to invest with a wink and a nod,” said Dave Peck, the American chief executive of Arrow Technologies, a Singapore-based company that sells laboratory equipment in Myanmar. He said he has handled his business through a non-Western bank.

A U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson said remaining sanctions aren’t intended to hurt American business but to “put pressure on bad actors.”

It isn’t unusual for investors to overhype markets when they open to Western capital. Many foreigners abandoned Vietnam when it failed to live up to expectations in the 1980s and 1990s, though many global firms eventually located there.

Myanmar has also proved frustrating for some.

Holloman of Houston set up shop in 2013 when Myanmar was signaling plans to open more natural gas to foreign players. But the government delayed. When authorities awarded exploration blocks in 2014, the global market was facing an energy glut. Many international firms Holloman hoped to team with lost interest, leaving little for Holloman to do.

Mr. Rose, the lawyer, said he’s struggling to keep his business afloat.

A balding 60-year-old who wears a pin of the Myanmar and American flags on his suit, he started planning the venture when he heard Ms. Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest in 2010.

Mr. Rose, who fled to the U.S. from Communist Romania in his youth, had worked for American Standard Brands when it introduced bathroom fixtures into Myanmar before U.S. sanctions in the 1990s.

He assembled a 65-page budget to start a law office in the country and convinced Herzfeld & Rubin partners to go in 50-50. He hired a former armed rebel who had a law degree from Indiana, and the chief legal counsel of Ms. Suu Kyi’s political party.

He kicked off his venture with a party at a five-star hotel attended by ambassadors and a famous Myanmar singer.

Business was initially robust, he said. Clients included American firms exploring opportunities and a pair of New Yorkers injured in a Myanmar plane crash.

“There was just more and more good news every day,” Mr. Rose recalled. “I felt like a guy who just bought a new car, and keeps seeing reviews of how amazing the car is in magazines.”

Several months later, business “literally fell off a cliff,” he said. American firms were losing interest. He laid off half his staff of 15 after sinking $200,000 of his own money into the venture.

In May, Mr. Rose said, he got a reprieve when he signed an American not-for-profit as a client.

Still, he’s recalibrating his expectations.

“U.S. companies are severely handicapped by our government’s unclear policy” in Myanmar, he said. “When even the banks stay away…our clients will stay away.”