Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Harn Yawnghwe winds up “fruitful” tour of home country

Monday, 31 October 2011 13:35 S.H.A.N.  
He regarded his 8-day visit to Burma, 20-28 October, as a fruitful eye-opener, said Harn Yawnghwe, director of Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office (EBO) and youngest son of the late first President of Burma who went into exile with his mother in 1963.
Harn Yawnghwe with his daughter arriving in Rangoon
The only problem he faced was when he applied for his visa. Despite being invited by three ministers, he was technically still a persona non grata, the embassy told him. It was finally issued, only after he had put down a minister’s name as his guarantor.

If there were any more misgivings, he was discouraged from them when he arrived there.

There were only two fixed items on his agenda: To visit his hometown Yawnghwe, once the seat of one of the most powerful Shan princedoms, and Rangoon, where he went to school. But it turned out most of his time there were filled up by a flurry of meetings with 12 political parties and a number of high ranking regime officials.

“I didn’t meet anybody saying anything negative about what’s taking place in Burma,” he remembered.
  • One senior police officer: This is just what we’ve been waiting for so long.
  • An Inlay shopkeeper: Since you are back after all these years, things must be moving for the better for our country.
  • A Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) leading member: Since the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is made up of all national races, including Shans, cooperation is better than expected earlier.
The parties
Apart from the SNDP, he also held meetings with 5 democracy parties, remaining 4 Nationalities Brotherhood parties and the deregistered Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). “All seemed to be saying three things to me:
  • The government under U Thein Sein leadership is really working for change
  • Change won’t come easy. Old systems and laws are still in place. It’ll take some time before new systems and laws can move in. The new labor act, for instance, came into being because of the assistance by the ILO. It means exiles can take part in drafting new laws. And it should not be considered as propping up the old regime, but as help strengthening democracy in the country.
  • Support and encouragement therefore are needed to make the changes in the making irreversible”
He earlier told Financial Times, “They have decided to change. It’s not what we called for, but there are changes. Even if they are pretending to change, we should push them so the change becomes irreversible.”

His argument found an ally at least in the National League for Democracy’s U Win Tin. “Our line of thinking does not differ from yours,” Harn was told.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to meet The Lady, despite tireless efforts made by one of her close associates,” he said.

He declined to name the said close associate, but said he is one of her intimates who still carries deep mistrust of Thein Sein. “She told me I need to have trust in him,” he said to Harn.

The ruling class
Without doubt, the country’s top leadership is made up of two factions, divided by conflicting personal feelings and ways of thinking, according to him:
The Gang of Four:
Vice President #1 Tin Aung Myint Oo
Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint
Information Minister Kyaw Hsan
Finance Minister Hla Tun

“They have reportedly urged the Senior General (Than Shwe) to stage a comeback, but unless Thein Sein makes a big blunder thereby giving him sufficient excuse, it is unlikely he will return”, he reasoned.
The “Reformists”:
President Thein Sein
Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann
Railway Transport Minister Aung Min
Industry #1 Minister Soe Thein
(and surprise, surprise) Electric Power Minister Zaw Min(whose declaration “not to back off” from the Myitsone project had triggered a series of popular actions culminating in its suspension)

“However, the fence sitters are still the majority in the top echelon, I was told,” he said. “They are naturally waiting to see which direction the wind is blowing before they make up their minds.”

Peace talks
Negotiations for a renewed ceasefire are conducted by a team led by U Aung Thaung, USDP Secretary #1 and U Thein Zaw, Chairman of Lower House National Races Affairs and Internal Peace making committee, on the Sino-Burmese front. It has notable but not surprising success with the Wa and Mongla groups, but “nothing but love” with the Kachins. Despite negotiations since June, war between the two has intensified much to the chagrin of the local populace.

“An alternative for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), if it is not held up by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) the alliance of which it is the leading member, is to propose to Naypyitaw for an appointment of a new negotiating team,” said Harn.

Coincidentally, on the Thailand-Burma side, another team led by U Aung Min had been seeking out appointments with the armed groups along the border. It had already met the Karen National Union on 9 October 2011, though details have yet to be disclosed. A source said the Karens were impressed with Aung Min who used to serve on the Karen front.

Harn Yawnghwe, while in Rangoon on Thursday, 27 October, told the 5 democracy parties “he would try to help in making peace in ethnic areas,” reported Mizzima News quoting Nayyi Ba Swe, daughter of former prime minister U Ba Swe.

“I was asked (by a regime official) what I thought of about its ‘group-by-group’ approach, shunning the UNFC approach,” Harn recalled. “I told them at the initial level which is for conclusion of ceasefire agreements, it should be okay to deal groupwise. But when it comes to political negotiations, all stakeholders should be invited.”

He said he had also urged the government to release the political prisoners as soon as possible, so to dispel the lingering doubts, if nothing else.

Other opposition movements meanwhile are making a 3 point call: Release of all political prisoners, nationwide ceasefire and inclusive dialogue.

Source: SHAN

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