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Aid and Development Plans Undermined by Sustained Military Offensive

By Burma Partnership  •  January 28, 2013

Kachin Protest in Bangkok 11 Jan 2013 © ReutersIn the week that the Nay Pyi Taw Accord for Effective Development Cooperation was signed between the Burma government and international donors and NGOs outlining the big picture plans for aid and development, the full-blown offensive in Kachin State has reached a crisis point.

The document, as expected, is teeming with the current language and concepts of the development industry. Participatory approaches when engaging with civil society, increasing the transparency and effectiveness of government initiatives, pro-poor strategies, and accountability are all mentioned. Statements and announcements made by the government usually sound a lot better than how they are actually implemented. The promised joint review board for political prisoners has not yet materialised, various commissions set up to investigate acts of violence in Arakan State, the crackdown on peaceful protesters at Letpadaung copper mine, and nationwide land confiscations have not produced any tangible, progressive results. A few days after the signing of the accord, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank announced new loans to the Burma government, totalling around US$950 million. Annette Dixon, the World Bank’s Country Director for Burma praised the “unprecedented reforms to improve people’s lives, especially the poor and vulnerable.”

These discussions of progress, lofty ideals, and fashionable development concepts between the central government and international agencies in the expansive new capital of Naypyidaw are in stark contrast with the plight of Kachin people in the far north of the country. The Burma Army is continuing its advance toward the town of Laiza, the last outpost of Kachin Independence Army (KIA) controlled territory, as more and more civilians suffer from the ongoing assault in their homeland. It was reported that on Saturday a strategic mountain post was taken after a sustained, heavy Burma Army assault, and many fear that it is only a matter of time before Laiza is taken. Already, around half of its population has fled.

The Nay Pyi Taw Accord for Effective Development Cooperation talks of “recognising human rights” and accelerating “peace-building” yet this must feel like a cruel joke to the 100,000 internally displaced persons who lost or fled their homes, the dozens of women raped, the families of those killed by airstrikes, or those being forced to carry supplies due to the Burma Army offensive and human rights and peace activists in Burma.

While President Thein Sein was busy wooing donors and international aid agencies, fellow members of his ruling party, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), revealed the true nature of accelerating peace in Burma by saying that peace will only be achieved by destroying the KIA.

What the Nay Pyi Taw Accord does not include is that for all these aims of good governance, rule of law, transparency, peace, and accountability to be achieved, there needs to be a political will from those in power, and this includes the armed forces. The Nay Pyi Taw Accord essentially depoliticizes poverty alleviation efforts and presents the solution as a technical exercise of aid effectiveness that will increase as aid and development money flows into the country. Poverty alleviation, peace, and democracy, however, require substantive political commitment that so far, the Thein Sein government has not proven. Many of the reforms undertaken in Burma have not been institutionalized, and are at the discretion of a few individual figures at the top.

A starting point to show the government’s commitment to genuine reform would be the end of attacks in Kachin State and the beginning of a political dialogue with the Kachin Independence Organization, or the umbrella organization of ethnic armed groups, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). The civilians fleeing Burma Army attacks would appreciate this much more than a cosy back-slapping exercise in Naypyidaw.

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