November 20, 2007

Parallel Editing in Burma

Parallel Editing in Burma
May Oo | November 18, 2007

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco
Foreign Policy In Focus

Recent and ongoing developments in Burma call for parallel editing—the filmmaking technique of running two scenes concurrently to suggest that they are happening at the same time while ratcheting up suspense.

On the one hand, the tough military regime is seemingly committing itself to talks with its longtime antagonist Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), breaking the deadlock between the ruling regime and the leading opposition party. On the other hand, the governing State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has reportedly increased the number of its troops stationed in areas mainly occupied by members of ethnic minorities such as the Karen and Karenni people. Military activities are increasing along with the number of the troops in the region.

But Burma isn't a film in the making. It's a country suffering an unacknowledged civil war, a clandestine conflict, and a sad reality that can't be hidden away.

Rice Harvest Attack

The increasing numbers of troops in the mainly Karen and Karenni people areas are causing displacement, deaths, and starvation as the regime forcibly relocates minority villages to areas under tighter control. For example, on November 6, the SPDC troops (Military Operations Command 1 and Division 88) repeatedly shelled the rice fields in the Yeh Mu Plaw area in the Northern Karen State.

The Free Burma Rangers, a relief organization, reports that there are over 1,000 internally displaced persons due to these attacks, which were meant to disrupt the rice harvest. The two units began attacking out of camps along the Kyauk Kyi-Hsaw Hta road on October 24. At least nine villagers were wounded and two killed in these attacks against villagers trying to harvest their rice.

The relief organization's report further notes that 64 rice fields were being blocked and controlled by the SPDC troops. North of the Thay Loh Klo River, a tributary of the Yunzalin River, troops were firing mortar rounds into the surrounding rice fields to keep villagers away. The Free Burma Rangers say these attacks are the most recent phase of an offensive, which began last year and has displaced over 30,000 people and killed over 370 villagers in Northern Karen State.

Sign of Change

None of the activities mentioned are new. But they should dampen any excitement over the developments in and around Rangoon. For those who anticipate fruitful dialogues and therefore positive developments, it's imperative to keep looking at what's happening within Burma, not just official and international talks.

Together with the people of Burma, the international community has grown dismayed about a country with such great potential and its silently suffering people. Understandably, any move that takes place in the midst of Burma's long deadlock serves as a sign of progress, or at least a sign of change.

According to a recent telephone interview with the NLD spokesperson Myint Thein, it looks like Aung San Suu Kyi will soon be released. As widely reported, she was recently permitted to meet with her party's leaders for the first time in three years. During the meeting, according to another party spokesperson named U Lwin, Aung San Suu Kyi reported to her party leaders that she has agreed to cooperate with the ruling junta to explore a possible dialogue process in consideration of ethnic nationalities, presumably the non-Burmans. So far so good. Aung San Suu Kyi now believes "the ruling authorities have the will for national reconciliation," as the Los Angeles Times reported. She and her party leaders will have to convince the country that this is indeed true.

Positive Steps

Since the crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators, including monks, the Burmese regime has convincingly demonstrated its commitment for change in the country. First, it welcomed United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Not only did Gambari get to meet with General Than Shwe, he also got to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the opposition. He was allowed to make his second visit rather successfully, even at the disbelief of the United States. A liaison, Aung Kyi, was appointed by the regime to deal with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Political prisoners, including members of NLD, have been released almost continuously. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN's human rights envoy, has been welcomed back to visit Burma. Undoubtedly, the regime should certainly be encouraged and supported for these developments. Nevertheless, there's another side of the story which still significantly represents Burma, only in parallel actions.

The Other Side

Any attempt either to ignore the other side of the Burma story or to sway away the world's attention from the killings, displacements, and miseries suffered by the ethnic minorities beyond description in the clandestine war zone would be absolutely counterproductive to every effort for national reconciliation made in Rangoon, Pyinmana, New York, Washington, or London. The current situation in Burma challenges all parties concerned. There seem to be few prospects for a large portion of the population as they flee for their lives even as the regime begins to regain trust from its longtime opponent, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

While the current political activities in and around Rangoon are by all means to be welcome by all hopeful people of Burma, for real progress to take root, the regime must halt all the military attacks against its citizens, particularly those in Karen and Karenni areas. Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD also must acknowledge it's fully aware of the ongoing military activities in the areas of ethnic minorities and their unspeakable suffering. Perhaps her opposition party can explain to the minorities how it will take every step possible with the aim to secure a nationwide ceasefire so that a genuine national reconciliation can also be entertained by the ethnic minorities.

There's no reason to believe that a nationwide ceasefire is impossible. An alliance of ethnic political parties has issued a statement welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi's willingness to cooperate with the junta in constructive dialogue. For the groups waging armed struggle against the Burmese regime, 58 years of armed conflict has not brought about the desired results. Therefore, it's crucial in their view that dialogue with the military is achieved. At the same time, these nationalities are well aware that a dialogue by itself will not bring about change. Many ethnic armies entered into ceasefires with the military starting from 1989 to find a political solution. To be sure, the ethnic armed groups need an alternate way to settle their grievances with a political solution instead of armed struggle.

Cautious and Critical

To be cautious and critical over any political move in Burma is a matter of expediency for the ethnic minorities, a hard-learned lesson from experience, but to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD at this point in time is irrefutably prudent for everyone, including ethnic minorities, struggling for peace and peaceful political settlements in Burma.

Of course the international community and the Burmese as well as non-Burmese around the world are challenged to understand the country's predicament in parallel editing. But it's both prudent and imperative not to miss the rare chance for genuinely positive change in this war-torn nation.

May Oo is a former Karen refugee from Burma, a graduate of San Francisco State University, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus ( She is currently a Ph.D student in law and social science at Indiana University School of Law and a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Democracy in Plural Societies. Read more...

November 17, 2007

Blogs and Political Transformation

Blogs Transforming Politics, Business, Culture, Says Journalist
David Kline discusses how Web logs provide forum for "voice of the people"
By Sara Feuerstein
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- “Nothing I have witnessed is as potentially transformative of media and politics as the emergence of blogging — or rather, the emergence of the ‘voice of the people through blogging,’” says journalist David Kline, who recently participated in a State Department-hosted webchat.

Kline, a journalist, blogger, and author of the book blog! how the newest media revolution is changing politics, business, and culture, discussed the function of blogs in the political arena, how blogs fit in with mainstream news media, and the blogosphere’s evolution during a March 20-24 webchat.

Derived from the term “Web log,” blogs frequently are updated online journals where authors publish opinions and comments, and users can respond and interact with each other. Blogs exist for nearly every topic imaginable, from cooking to TV series, soccer to science. “I suppose you could say that whenever people are passionate about something—be it computers, sports or politics—that’s where you’ll find bloggers,” said Kline.


“My own theory is that political bloggers will make it more possible for previously unheard voices to be heard and attract an audience—and for streams of political opinion outside the traditional two-party [Republican and Democrat] rhetoric to gain a following” said Kline. Anyone with an Internet connection can maintain a blog, and the voices of ordinary people with something valuable to say are now being heard and having an impact, he added.

In addition to serving as vehicles for opinions and stirring rhetoric, “blogs are amazing ‘collective organizers’ … [that] can rally grassroots political activists, raise funds, mobilize people for common action” he said. Kline noted that U.S.-based blogs such as the liberal-leaning DailyKos and conservative-leaning Powerline have demonstrated tremendous skill at mobilizing like-minded people.

Although blogs wield the power to mobilize voters and activists, Kline believes Web logs have not yet been effective at reaching across the political divide. Political blogs, he said, tend to “preach to the choir,” spurring enthusiastic debate among those committed to firm ideological positions, but they remain unable to spark new, genuine dialog.

“I’d say that the influence of political blogs is still largely at the margins of power. Big money, big political party machines, still dominate. But as I noted before, they no longer have a total monopoly of power and influence. Political bloggers have upset the apple cart from time to time,” said Kline.


Blogs also have begun to “upset the apple cart” of media coverage and distribution, Kline said. Many have lost faith in the media’s fairness and dedication to the public interest and are turning to blogs as sources of information, analysis and truth. “The fact remains that no longer is public policy, news and information, and national and international discourse the exclusive domain of ‘professional editors, reporters, policymakers, and politicians,’” Kline said.

Conventional media such as newspapers, television news programs and weekly news magazines often quote the blogs that consistently offer credible facts and insightful commentary. Blogs now exert some influence over which stories national and world media choose to cover.

Even though blogs are gaining momentum, Kline said, blogging will complement and reshape mainstream media but never replace it. “In most cases, blogs cannot replace seasoned reporting by, for example, national security reporters with high-level contacts,” nor would they ever “acquire the trust and credibility” of major media, he said.


How are blogs evolving? According to Kline, 30 million blogs have been created. He believes that bloggers will sort themselves into three main categories: “Some bloggers will gain credibility equal to that enjoyed by mainstream journalists, and they will have to adhere to roughly similar codes of ethics. Others will be content to write passionately about their hobbies or interests, and will be viewed by their dedicated readers not as journalists, but as ‘experts’ in their chosen field. And then finally, of course, a great many bloggers will just spew a lot of hot air, and few will trust them or care what they say.”

Kline also hopes that blogs will bring people together and help them better to understand each other. “There is still a lot of ‘talking at’ rather than ‘communication with’ each other,” said Kline, who hopes that as blogging matures, it will foster “greater empathy and listening.”

Kline said he has high hopes for blogging’s future role in politics, media and the world. “This is not just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric,” he said. “I truly believe, as I say in my book, that blogging is helping to finally create the kind of world we were always taught was best—a world in which EVERYONE at last has a voice and a chance to have that voice heard…And that, to my mind, is real democracy.”

The transcript of this webchat and information about upcoming webchats are available on USINFO's Webchat Station. Kline’s biography is available on his blog, Read more...

November 11, 2007

Karens and their newspapers: A Historical View


Earliest Publications:

As a popular saying that goes, "the newspaper is the eyes and ears of a nation," the news media is of prime importance for the advancement of a nation. The progress of a nation can be measured in terms of the news organs owned and published by that nation.

The "SAH TU GAW" (Morning Star) newspaper was published in 1841 and it was the first of its kind in the annals of the history of Burma newspaper printed in Sgaw Karen and English and later in Sgaw Karen alone till the beginning of World War II as a monthly publication. There was a temporary closing down during the Japanese era. Within a few months after the British re-occupation of Burma, it was again published in Karen and Burmese. However, soon after Ne Win assumed power, the first and pioneering indigenous newspaper was forcefully closed down by the military regime.

In 1881 Dr. T. Than Bya and his colleagues formed the Karen National Association (KNA). In 1885 the "DAW KALU" newspaper in Karen and "FAIR PLAY" in English were published by the KNA. This news circulation stopped after the decease of Dr. T. Than Bya.

In 1915, Thra Kah Ser from Shwe Gyin, with the help of his colleagues published the "SAH TU HAH " (EVENING STAR) newspaper. This publication ceased in about the year 1925.

Karen Newspaper Before The Second World War:

(1) Thra G. A. Tudee published privately a Sgaw Karen monthly news periodical "THE SHEPHERD." It was handed over to the Karen Baptist Mission due to financial difficulties. This monthly flourished till the beginning of World War II.

(2) A weekly private newspaper published by Thra Hla Kyaw of Rangoon, the "RECORDER" was circulated until the beginning of the Second World War.

(3) The "CHILDREN'S FRIEND" the voice of Rangoon Karen Christian Endeavour Association was also a monthly news organ published by Thra Pan of Insein.

(4) The "TAW MEH PAH", a non-religious weekly news organ was published by Sir San C. Po of Bassein.

(5) The "KAREN MAGAZINE" was published by Thra San Ba. This was a monthly magazine with current news articles, stories, tit-bits of fun, cartoons, photographs, ancient Karen "HTA" verses and poetry.

(6) "THE BULLETIN" was published by the Insein Karen Seminary once in three months' time. This paper included articles on health and social welfare besides religion.

(7) "THE SUNRISE" was a monthly news periodical issued by the Toungoo Anglican
Church. This paper had news of national affairs, social welfare and religion.

(8) The "TAW HSOO NYA" (Advance Forward), later known as "Leh Hsoo Nya" (Go Forward) edited and published by S'ra Tun Aung (Father of Mahn James Tun Aung) was monthly news periodical in Pwo Karen.

Karen News Periodicals after World War II:

(1) The "ETHNIC PEOPLE'S JOURNAL" ( Taing Yin Tha ) was a monthly issue in Burmese with a stand against "Imperialism" and "Feudalism". This paper was edited by Mahn Win Maung who later became an instrument of the AFPFL and an opponent to the KNU and the Karen national cause.

(2) The "THU WUNNA TAING" (The Golden Land) was published in 1947. It was the voice of the KNU, the most famous publication that bravely stood against the Burmese Chauvinist policies and the AFPFL regime, which instituted a slander campaign against the Karen people. This newspaper had firmly rallied the Karens. The publication ceased due to the outbreak of the armed revolution by Karens.

(3) "GO FORWARD" a monthly news issue, first published by Thra Raleigh Dee of Insein and then later taken over by the Karen Baptist Mission is still in circulation.

(4) "OUR HOME" a monthly women's journal is supervised by Thramu Edith Pyu and is still in circulation. This journal contains domestic science, literature and health for women.

(5) "THE LIGHT" was published by a young Karen named Saw Lawder Dwe. Although this news organ had been outstanding for the Karen Youth, due to the one-sided support of Moosso Hunter Tha Hmwe it had been liquidated along with Moosso's clique by Ne Win's military regime.

(6) " THE KAREN VANGUARD JOURNAL " was supervised and published by a group of Karen Youths from the Rangoon University. This publication being a progressive and nationalist in character was liquidated when Ne Win's Military regime took over power.

Compiled from The KNU BULLETIN, No. 2 January 1986. Read more...

November 08, 2007

In Her Own Words

By The Associated Press Thu Nov 8, 4:13 PM ET

Following is the text of the statement by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released Thursday by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

"I wish to thank all those who have stood by my side all this time, both inside and outside my country. I am also grateful to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his unwavering support for the cause of national reconciliation, democracy and human rights in my country.
"I welcome the appointment on 8 October of Minister Aung Kyi as minister for relations. Our first meeting on 25 October was constructive and I look forward to further regular discussions. I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible.

"In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard.

"In full awareness of the essential role of political parties in democratic societies, in deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the members of my party and in my position as General Secretary, I will be guided by the policies and wishes of the National League for Democracy. However, in this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.

"To that end, I am committed to pursue the path of dialogue constructively and invite the government and all relevant parties to join me in this spirit.

"I believe that stability, prosperity and democracy for my country, living at peace with itself and with full respect for human rights, offers the best prospect for my country to fully contribute to the development and stability of the region in close partnership with its neighbors and fellow ASEAN members, and to play a positive role as a respected member of the international community." Read more...