Calls for blanket amnesty in Myanmar

Myanmar badly needs an international push for socio-economic development to galvanise the country's huge potential, but it would need a blanket amnesty to get six million exiles abroad to return home to help, the Peace Delegation for Motherland says.

The former Myanmar student leaders in exile expressed cautious optimism at the end of a six-week tour of their homeland, saying the country badly needed water and sanitation schemes and a further push for other socio-economic reforms as well as reconciliation with ethnic groups.

"Thein Sein's reforms must be further pushed. Of course government control at all levels is still rigid, from the bottom-up and in various elements," said Htun Aung Gyaw, 63, the first chair of the All Burmese Students' Democratic front (ABSDF).

He has just ended a historic return to Myanmar from Sept 1 to Oct 14 together with a number of former student leaders who have settled in other countries in past decades.

Mr Aung Gyaw, an American citizen, said Myanmar would never be stable if all ethnic groups could not settle on national reconciliation with the military and the government.

"In our meetings with various ethnic leaders, they wished for peace and stability for their people. We observed that Kachin and Shan, for example, want to be included in the union, not be independent. What the ethnic groups need is equal rights and self-determination," said the Cornell University alumni.

From Left: Ko Ko Lay, Htun Aung Gyaw and Ko Mu Tha (Photo by Achara Ashayagachat)

Ko Mu Tha, 48, an American business entrepreneur, said absolute peace in Myanmar was not only needed between ethnic groups and the Burmese people but also between all civilians and uniformed authorities.

"The government is still very concerned about security. There requires a change of mindset inside Myanmar if it wants an uplift; quick change is needed in sanitation and health improvement," said Mr Mu Tha, also an American citizen.

The peace delegation was saddened by the lack of development after more than two decades since they left home and called for six million exiles around the world to return to help "develop" the motherland.

"Burma needs skills from all fields which exiles could easily provide. The bureaucracy is very weak, every sector has untrained people. To encourage exiles to return, the government must issue an amnesty statement first," said Mr Aung Gyaw.

The former ABSDF leaders were considered a good connector for national reconciliation since the largest youth movement was a pool of all ethnic people working for democracy. They expressed their willingness to do so and received a warm welcome during their visit to flooded areas in the delta region and to the far north Kachin state to eastern Shan state.

Ko Ko lay, a former ABSDF information secretary, said the sticking point for peace and reconciliation remained the constitution.

"But the government is still able to do something, apart from the charter amendment, that is to push for further democratic reforms in other elements before the upcoming election in 2015," said Mr Ko Lay, also an American citizen.

He noted that the Myanmar exiles were an important catalyst for socio-political change in the country. "Having only [an election] as a [part of a] democracy is an important step, but what is more significant is how to build up trust and long lasting peace and to get a strong civil society," said Mr Ko Lay, who emphasised that they also discussed these issues with the Prime Minister's Office Minister Aung Min.

Mr Aung Min, the exiles said, has pledged there would be positive news on the Kachin peace talks soon.

But the exiles stopped short of commenting on the Rohingya–Buddhist clash in Rakhine state, saying that it involved the controversial issue of religion and ethnic identity. "How the matter is interpreted is upon the majority of people inside the country, we cannot talk about it. It’s complicated and delicate," said Mr Aung Gyaw.

He also expressed concern about business control by military cronies which has distorted the fair-play spirit. "The most worrisome development is land grabbing in industrial zones, and beach control by the cronies," said Mr Aung Gyaw.

Ko Ko Lay said he supported US President Barack Obama's "step-by-step" sanction policy, "I want to invite the business sector in Burma to take social responsibility. And to build more hospitals and schools and work with the government in infrastructure development," said Mr Ko Lay.

He noted that after putting the sticky ethnic differences aside, Myanmar's leaders also had to learn how to live with different opinions first.

"This is the core principle of democracy. All stake holders need to understand about power sharing and learn how to share natural resources in our motherland," said Mr Ko Lay.

About the author

Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter