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NLD’s Gestures Raise Eyebrows

28 March 2012: A statement by the National League for Democracy early this week regarding the cancellation of voting in three constituencies in Kachin State for the April 1 by-elections is raising eyebrows.

Citing security reasons, the Union Election Commission announced last Friday that voting would be cancelled in Kachin State’s Bhamo, Hpakant and Mukaung Townships.

The NLD campaign committee issued a three-point statement on Monday lamenting the vote cancellation, and arguing that there was no evidence security was an issue in the Townships.

But it also contains ambiguous sentence which reads “The NLD has a desire to negotiate with the KIA/KIO (Kachin Independence Army/Organization) so that the elections can be held.” The statement goes on to say, “If the Election Commission and the Union Govt can make sure that such a negotiation takes place [between NLD and KIA/O], we [NLD] believe that the elections can be held in Kachin State on April 1st.”

Some observers see the NLD’s statement as inflammatory, as it can be taken to imply that the KIA/KIO is the cause of the cancellation of the polls in Burma’s restive north.

A source close to KIO Headquarters Laiza says some in Kachin State see the NLD statement as “Adding insult to injury,” as the ‘untold miseries’ in Kachin State are the results of Burma Army’s ongoing offensives against the KIA.

The NLD’s ambiguous use of words prompted an official response from the KIO. Today, KIO Headquarters issued a statement outlining its position regarding the elections.

But the tone of the statement was more than diplomatic.

The KIO says it welcomes the NLD’s gesture for talks if that’s what it takes for a free and fair election to take place in Kachin State. But it also makes it clear that its policy is to refrain from actions that will interfere with the electoral process.

“We had already cooperated in the electoral process during the 2010 elections by issuing directives down to [KIA] command chain on 28 October 2008,” KIO says.

The four directives, according to the KIO statement, include, not say anything against the elections; not to disturb or interfere with the electoral process, to ensure that people vote according to their wish; and to cooperate in security affairs.

NLD’s Chin State Controversy

Meanwhile, an NLD delegation wrapped up its trip to southern Chin State last week, where it distributed education materials and cash to students studying in Buddhist monasteries. The Burma Today, online publication in exile, reported that the NLD Education Network had donated two million kyats in cash and other school materials to Chin students in four Buddhist schools.

Both official statistics and unofficial estimates put Chin State’s Christian population to be around or over 90 percent. Chins continue to suffer from and discrimination perseuction on the dual basis of their religious and ethnic identity, according to both domestic and international human rights groups.

In describing the NLD’s humanitarian mission to Chin State, a Chin internet user posted the link to Burma today with the subject “Bad News for the Chins.”

The NLD Education Network raises funds from private donations and from public events. It then distributes donations for educational purpose in largely ethnic areas. But the nature of fund-raising has not been without criticisms.

The Nationalities Brotherhood Forum, a five-member ethnic parties from the Chin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan, issued a statement objecting to the NLD fundraising for the ethnic cause without the consent of or consulting the ethnic peoples themselves.

The NBF says in its 14 January 2012 statement, “We strongly object to the holding of any events for party fundraising by any party or organization using name of the ethnic people as a pretext,” referring to the NLD education fund-raising drive.

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