Friday, January 14, 2005

Ethnic Conflict in Burma: Politics of Historical Memories

1). Burma's Ethno-Nationalisms

From: "Common Problems, Shared Responsibilities: Citizens' Quest for National Reconciliation in Burma/Myanmar" Free Burma Coalition Report, pp. 80-84. , by Zarni and May Oo, Free Burma Coalition

For full references and citations, see the full report at

Ethnic Conflict in Burma: Politics of Historical Memories

We have just demonstrated how enormous are the difficulties that exist in forging alliance between the dominant Burmans and the country’s ethnic minorities. Clearly the continuing conflict in Burma is not simply fought in terms of restoring democracy and human rights. It must be emphasized that there is a deeper politics of historical memories, which continues to serve as one of the biggest obstacles to national reconciliation.

Each minority community feels a need to retain its sense of self, its collective memory in the face of the Burman-centered vision of the Burmese nation by the government, which they have come to view as colonial power. The government’s version of Burma’s history is radically different from what their own communal and ethnic memories teach them.

Should any one group operate with racial or ethnic superiority – as Burman Buddhists have often done – it is certain to trigger deep resentment and forceful, dysfunctional expression of ethno-nationalisms of the most intense kind.

The value of memories, like anything that is human and socially constructed, has its limits. When two competing memories collide, as it were, the reliance on memories sets back the clock of history (of a nation) to day one of independence, where the primordial sentiments surge. It is no longer fruitful to use the past events or memories as a guide.

Unfortunately, it is inconceivable that these differences in memories can be sorted out in any mutually satisfactory way, given the sorry state of hardened ethnic distrust and irreconcilable versions of these memories among different ethnic communities each of whom views Burma as their ancestral home.

For instance, the military leaders and the great majority of Burmans share a belief that the present day Burma developed in a linear fashion straight from the founding of the first Burmese kingdom at the central plains of Pagan in the 11th century. Only the British colonization of the Burman Kingdom disrupted this historical development. They believe in the accounts of their mighty, expansionistic empires with subordinate alliances made up of multi-ethnic and multi-language communities, including the Shan, the Arakanese, the Mons, and so on, encompassing the present day Burma and its political boundaries and, at times, stretching into neighboring India and Thailand.

A wildly different version is in circulation among non-Burman ethnic groups.

In his report on State Constitutions Drafting Process, General Secretary Lian H. Sakhong of the United Nationalities League for Democracy [Liberated Area, Sweden] writes: “The Union of Burma is a nation-state of diverse ethnic nations (ethnic nationalities or nationalities), founded in 1947 at the Panglong Conference by pre-colonial independent ethnic nationalities such as the Chin, the Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Rakhine (Arakan), Myanmar (Burman) and Shan based on the principle of equality. “As it was founded by formerly independent peoples in 1947 through an agreement, the boundaries of the Union of Burma today are not historical.”

This is a representative view among many non-Burman ethnic groups in Burma. These divergent - and obviously irreconcilable - memories die hard, and there is no way a common threat out of these divergent histories can be drawn. Despite the polemics of federalism, some of the ethnic groups such as the Shan appear to have kept their independence aspirations.

The Burmese military leadership is fully aware of these centrifugal tendencies backed up by corresponding or supporting historical memories of various ethnic communities.

How should Burma proceed if its histories are tortured and unhelpful?

If her past is no guide – and then perhaps her future – more accurately, how the parties want Burma’s future to be – the vision for a future Burma - can serve as a blueprint. Such a vision born out of civic, national debate is solely needed, and so are the leaders who are equipped intellectually to appreciate this process and not allow themselves to succumb to powerful primordial sentiments in the process.

No doubt the flames of ethno-nationalisms of Burma will continue to burn, given the fact that many non-Burman ethnic communities have felt that they have been deprived of equality, politically, culturally and economically under the Burman-dominated rule for so long.

The distrust and fear of the Burmans commonly shared by non-Burman groups throughout the country began long before the nationalist army headed by Aung San came into existence in 1941.

The Common Bond: the Armed Forces and the Dominant Ethnic Burmans

Earlier, we noted that the Burma’s Armed Forces has become a state within the State (of Burma), with its own short- and long-term plans designed to ensure the institutional survival, dominance, and reproduction in the country.

We wish to emphasize one structural issue that can help explain the longevity of the army as the dominant political force. The NLD may be the most popular brand name and symbol of democratic change or the push for it. But it is the Tatmadaw which the majority of people have come to view as the institution which can repel any threats, external and internal, to the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.

Throughout Burma’s society, not excluding the Burman majority communities, there is widely shared a great deal of animosity and even hatred toward the armed forces and the military officers at all levels, not just the top brass. However, most Burmese have a sense of Burman-centered nationalism and feel some ideological affinity with their military rulers, more than our cosmopolitan, “enlightened” Burman politicians who speak a language littered with words like “federalism” or “self-determination.”

Suffice it to say no Burman politician, however popular, has articulated where he or she really stands on the question of minorities’ right to self-determination, including the right to secede from the Union of Burma. They all take the majority position, that under no circumstances is secession of any group acceptable. For no matter how much animosity between the people – especially the Burmans or those who have bought into this Burman-centered nationalism or worldview – and the Armed Forces personnel, they all drink from the same ideological well-spring.

This shared ideological bond serves as an unbroken structural linkage between the armed forces and the majority Burman. It is a bond based on ethno-nationalistic emotions that give the great majority of people a strong sense of belonging to a national community in which they are dominant.

It is a much more powerful bond than that which may have developed among NLD supporters subscribing to a set of liberal political values and beliefs with no root in the native political culture. As far as the Burmese majority, their blood is still thicker than friendship. While Burmese wish to befriend and adopt liberal values and outlook, when push comes to shove, they will go with their blood ties at the expense of equality and ethnic justice.

This structural bond of ethno-nationalism plays out even among relatively sophisticated dissidents in exile during discussions, on-line or otherwise, that touch on ethnic equality, self-determination and re-constructing alternative histories of Burma and the ethnic communities.

When juxtaposed with the ideological discourse of human rights and democracy, it is elevated as the mainstream ideology among the NLD-led democracy movement. Likewise, Thai- and Indo-Burmese border-based dissident organizations and armed resistance groups always encounter occasions, formal and otherwise, in which the position taken by Burman dissidents resembles that of their ideological kinfolks – the members of the military government – and its official view toward ethnic relations in the country. Indeed, in the half-century since independence, the Burmans (and their minority brethrens) are still mired in what Clifford Geertz terms “the pattern of primordial dissidence.”

Winds of Change in Burma?

Winds of Change in Burma?

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Recent events, including the extension of the house arrest of the NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Thai PM accepting - and conveying - the SPDC's reasoning for her continued house arrest, and the SPDC's reduction of her personal doctor's visit from three per week to one, indicate that political polarization has deepened and the prospects for reconciliation between the two arch rivals -NLD and SPDC - are almost non-existent.

There are strident calls by NLD supporters - mostly those in the opposition - to put more pressure and to further isolate the Burmese generals.

The campaign by London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide alleges that Rangoon is committing a genocide against the Karens, Shans and Karenni in the armed conflict zones of Burma.

On its part, the SPDC is prepared, it seems pretty clear, to take a progressively tougher stance against anyone and any group that stands on its way toward "disciplined democracy (?)". The regime's internal shake-up is systematic, thorough and methodical. The mass release of prisoners, which includes some of the country's most prominent dissidents, contrasts sharply with a clear signal being delivered to ceasefire groups, especially the Wa and theunequivocal act of resumed military operations in the KNU and KNPP areas, etc.

Indeed the new management of the SPDC is categorically different from the operational management under the now deposed PM General Khin Nyunt. It is being speculated that drug-producing United Wa State Army, perhaps the most important proxy army, which the now deposed PM Khin Nyunt may have used as his strategic ally, is increasingly uneasy about the new situation which it finds itself.

One Shan news report state that the Wa slaughtered the SPDC military officers who delivered the Wa the message from Rangoon that they need to giveup their arms by Jan. 18, 2005. There are no confirmation, official or otherwise, of this reporting.

But two possible explanations exist.

There is likely to be a serious military confronation between the SPDC and the Wa.

Some among the opposition, especially select armed ethnic minority groups, may even welcome the possibility of the SPDC troops and the Wa druglords killing each other, anticipating that Beijing will back the former Communist foot soldiers in the now defunct, Beijing-backed Burmese Communist Party. Anything that would keep the common enemy in Rangoon occupied and exhausted is a goodthing, so goes the logic.

But from the perspective of Beijing, it may not be appealing to back up the communists-cum-drug-lords that use Yunnan as the major transport route of narcotics from the Wa areas to Hong Kong and beyond, turning the Wa into a proxy army. Beijing may view the SPDC as a bigger fish to fry as the latter effectively controls the State in Burma, which can better serve Beijing's strategic and economic interests in Burma.

In addition, Beijing siding with the United Wa State Army - most probably on the regime's hit list - will push Rangoon to New Delhi and Tokyo - China's regional rivals in terms of resources, market shares, and influence. So the SPDC may most probably be toying with the idea of total subjugation of what has become a mini-state within the State of Burma - something no sovereign government, however unpopular, will tolerate even conceptually.

If the speculation that SPDC officers who delivered the message to the Wa to surrender by Jan. 17, 2005 were gunned down on the spot, as contained in the Shan group's report (see this posting CarnagePersist) turns out to be true, one can expect disproportionate retalition from the SPDC in Rangoon.

Plus under General Khin Nyunt's operational leadership, the Wa have angered local Burmese populations in the heartlands of Burma who are steep in cultural genteelism. The Was are viewed as unethical and barbariceven by the mainstream society which has been forced to embrace corruption as a way of life.

If indeed the SPDC takes on the United Wa State Army, the chances of average Burmese rallying behind the SPDC are very high. Having been the weakest - and most junior - of the top three generals, General Khin Nyunt may have viewed the well-armed and well-financed Wa as a piller of his power base. But the consolidated SPDC leadership that is re-establishing a single command structure within the Armed Forces may feel it needs to switch gears and take on the challenge of disarming the most formdiable potentialenemy first - the Wa.

It may do so because none in the SPDC needs or relies on the Wa for either money or political support. For any given regime, it is a more logical decision to only sell natural gas and other marketable natural resources than striking financialdeals with druglords.

And Rangoon may also gamble that Beijing will put its longer term national interests above the ties of the past patron client relations between it and the Wa.

Also for unpopular governments wars, international or domestic, are a good way to rally ordinary people behind. For a government that is interested in the centrality of the military as national institution, what better way to remain relevant than turning the country into militaristic.

Wars will surely accomplish that goal. Plus for the sovereignty-sensitive and nationalistic Burmese, which the average Burmese are, the issue of democracy pales when it comes to maintaining the territorial integrity of the Burman-dominated nation.

In the event of serious military operations against the Wa, ASEAN response is likely to be hands-off for two reasons. For one Jakarta has its domestic war in Ache; Manila and its continuing armed conflict in Mendanaung; Thaksin's Bangkok is dealing the problems in the South.

Washington has made accusations in the past that the Wa group has links with international terrorists.

And finally, which nations that have declared "drug wars" againt narco-producing and -trafficking would oppose the SPDC using force against the Wa - if it comes down to that?Whatever the eventual outcome of the new tensions between Rangoon and Wa group, prospects for political reconciliation and economic development in Burma look grim at best and non-existent at worst.

Neither the pro-NLD West nor the NLD itself has much options either. The greatest irony is that trade and security integration of Burma into the swift currents in the region - China, India, ASEAN, etc. - may have greater liberalizing impact on the Burmese society at large than any strategically designed campaigns and campaign cries to isolate and punish the generals.

But both the NLD and its Western supporters have convinced themselves in the orthodoxy of isolation and sanctions as the change venues that they have come to undermine their own stated objective of building an open society in Burma.

Neither the NLD nor the West will likely change its coordinated course of actions, other than repeat the same tried and failed formulae.

The winds of change are blowing in Burma, but not necessarily for better. Sooner or later, the SPDC will likely march its troops onto the defiant soils of resistance, those with legitimate claims to autonomy or drug-lords that have stumbled on the concept of ethno-nationalism thus wanting their own autonomous state.

Burmese Political Exiles, Their Thoughts and Actions: A Reflection

Burmese Political Exiles, Their Thoughts and Actions: A Reflection

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Quotes of the Day:

“We only ask that the international community stay away from the military junta. Then, when the military junta recognizes that they have no friends … they will come to the dialogue table.”
- Aung Din, Policy Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma"

(W)e like to see things in black and white in Burma. We like to say the military is bad, the democracy movement is good. But in reality all the generals feel that they are trying to do good."

- Harn Yawnghwe, Founder and Director, Euro-Burma Office"

"I believe in the democracy taught by the Lord Buddha that is very same with that how the western democracy is all about because people decide for good, not a brute decide for all!"
- Lwin Aung Soe, from Concern to the Buddhists gathering in Burma on Maykha Burma listserver

"(W)e , NLD supporters e-mail group can do a little action to be effective for our movement . Of course because of this alone won't help our movement to remove dictators tomorrow. But it will be effective as one of our actions.It's Just to make thousands of postcards for this coming new year ( great greeting cards ) with our beloved leader Daw Suu's picture."
-Dr. Aung Chun, a subsriber on the NLD and CRPP Supporters' listserve

Compiler's Reflection:

A sad combination of the military's determined effort to make sure the opposition can not become a serious threat and the choices made by the opposition leadership inside Burma has reduced oppositional politics to mere symbolism.

Over the past decade, the country has seen no rock-throwing mobs on the streets, no sabotage, no anti-military protest demonstrations, no acts of peaceful civil disobedience, no serious party or organizational activities - and the list (of no serious action) goes on.

This politics of symbolism has led to the rise of the exiles' voices, and consequetntly the exiled supporters of the NLD within the Burmese diaspora have come to play an important role in influencing Burma policy among mostly Western governments.

Most Asian governments, especially the ones whose policies matter in Burma's internal politics - such as China and India - are impervious to public lobbying on Burma because Burma is part of both countries' longer term strategic visions.

Burma is a structural/national interest policy issue, and as such not mutable through internal/democratic process. In this posting I am including different pieces that demonstrate what the exiles are thinking and doing.

Not unlike other demographic categories, Burmese exiles do not come in as cooker-cutter products. So some are naive beyond remedy. Some are intelligent. Some are well-intentioning, but completely dogmatic. Others are wrong-headed while some are simply cultists.

Establishing unity or consensus among the exiles from Burma will take more than one's life time. There are no democratic processes or deliberations among the Burmese exiles. Nor is the Burmese culture in general and more damaged exile sub-culture in particular conducive to democratic thinking or practice.

But nonetheless, it is important to know what disparate voices demand or beg from the international community, given that they have become de facto mouth pieces for the NLD and other political organizations inside Burma, serving as political cheer-leaders from afar.

As far as the average Burmese living under the military rule in Burma, they are extremely unhappy living under the authoritarian rule of the generals. But at the same time, they are totally uninspired by either the political symbolism of the NLD or the fragmented exiles and their disparate agendas. To be sure, they love Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's democracy icon - but idolizing a human icon and being inspired to action - are two categorically different things.

By and large, judging by the criteria of moral, political, material and financial support, the disproportionate number of Burmese diaspora have prettymuch written off any effort to either topple the regime in Rangoon or bring about change as "a lost cause."

A parrallel case of Burmese exiles exists.

Cuban exiles in New Jersey and Florida have long maintained a political symbiosis with politicians in their adopted country of the United States. The Americans get the votes they want from the powerful Cuban exile communities, especially the older generation of Cubans who fled Castro's successful Marxist revolution which ended the rightwing Cuban government in Havana.

Fidel Castro has outlasted at least 10 American presidents most of whom love to hate this sole surviving international icon on the Left, and worked toward the latter's demise, short of direct invasion of Havana.

Regardless of the demonstrable absence of any impact whatsoever in terms of its stated policy objectives, the U.S. has maintained pro-isolation and pro-sanctions policy toward its irritating neighbor since early 1960s, and the European Union has lifted its travel and trade restrictions only recently.

Castro is still kicking and alive, and still delivering 3-hr non-stop marathon speeches.

The Burmese generals have studied different models of regimes which have successfully stood up to what they see as U.S. imperialism or Washington's bullying of the rest of the world.

Castro's Cuba is most definitely one of the systems that have attracted the Burmese' attention - or so it has been speculated. For those who believe that a multipolar world where there are checks and balances in international relations is categorically and empirically preferrable to the world that is dominated by a single nation, especially the one that lacks fundamental respect for other cultures, civilizations and sovereignty, - be it Eastern or Western or Left or Right, standing up to any big nation that attempts to impose its prefered solutions and political will on smaller nations is not a bad thing.

However, if the generals are looking at Cuba as a model of self-reliant economy set up by visionary intellectuals-cum-revolutionaries, they ought to realize that Castro's rule has done some really positive things for average Cubans, the rights abuses of the pro-West opposition elements notwithstanding. For instance, public health and education services, especially the former, are envies of the rest of the world, including the American neighbors.

At the moment, both Burma's public health and education sectors would rank either at the bottom or almost at the bottom of any worldwide ranking. The mainstream opposition's calls for isolating Burma and the generals will boomerang and further hamper the stated objectives of the pro-NLD opposition, within the country or in exile, which include the betterment of the country's human resource infrastructure.

Re-thinking Social Change in Burma

Re-thinking Social Change in Burma: A Commentary

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Below, please find a thoughtful paper written by Ashley South, a British researcher specializing in Mon history and politics.

Generally, most Burma political analyses on the subject of change suffer from two major weaknesses: 1) insufficient attention has been paid to the social power of economic development - read, TRADE and other commercial interactions; and 2). they are hopelessly fixated on political and social actors at the expense of understanding economic actors and the social and political room the latter could create.

In literature on gender issues, increased economic power of women plays decisive role in their progressively greater influence and authority in social and familial contexts and beyond.

Those of us who argued for trade sanctions genuinely believed the NLD-led non-violence resistance and the ethnic minorities-led armed resistance were going to be helped by the secondary/support campaign of sanctions from outside.We did believe in the negative economic power of sanctions and political impact it could have on the system there.

If sanctions can be argued to have negative powers, trade must have positive powers.

It is a simple - and perhaps even simplistic inversion.

But powerful equations are usually simple equations.

These days change agents in Burma are by and large incapacitated partly because of their own strategic mis-calculations and personal and emotional/ego issues vis-a-vis the ruling generals and partly because of the regime's systematic effort to crush them. So if the MP-elects and other political actors can't even fight for their own individual freedom - let alone freedom of the entire nation of 54 millions -, where do we turn to as potential venues for change?

Trade and economic development have never been viewed by the opposition as a viable - and perhaps even better - tool for helping a society evolve into a more enlightened place politically. Like science, trade is not simply a technical process. It is a deep cultural system that does make demands on the indigenous systems, both cultural and political. I think political scientists or those with strong political orientation in our outlook suffer from paying less attention to the social and political power of trade and economy on societal transformation.

For the Burmese, being fixated in only the purposive actions of human agency in social change at the expenseof our understanding of the unleashed power of capital and resultant processes, doesn't help us reach our goal of social change in Burma for the better.

Nonetheless, South's piece is worth a read as it attempts to argue for complementary approaches toward social change, save trade and security integration. He offers a model, a construct with which to imagine how change might be possible in Burma.

By definition models do not necessarily correspond to the messy realities which do not conform to a researcher's or policy advocate's desire or wish. But we do need to look at different ways of helping usher in a new era of change, rather than repeat the tried and failed approaches of the past 14 years.

Otherwise we will be like a group of idiotic sailers/rowers who keep on rowing the boat the whole night in the pitch darkness, only to find themselves at the same location the next morning. They were unaware that the boat was tied to the dock!! Enjoy!!+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Political Transition in Myanmar: A New Model for Democratisation

Ashley South


This article examines social and political transition in Myanmar (Burma). Strategies for transition in Myanmar have tended to focus on elite-level politics, rather than grass-roots democratisation and social mobilisation. However, both approaches are necessary - although neither is sufficient in itself. While change at the national/elite level is urgently required, sustained democratic transition can only be achieved if accompanied by local participation. The tentative re-emergence of civil society networks within and between ethnic nationality/ minority communities over the past decade is one of the most significant - but under-examined - aspects of the social and political situation in Myanmar. ‘Development from below’, and efforts to build local democracy from the ‘bottom-up’, using local capacities and social capital, are underway in government-controlled areas, and in some ethnic nationality-populated ceasefire and war zones (including insurgent-controlled areas), as well as in neighbouring countries. However, the sector is still under-developed, and changes coming from civil society will be gradual, and need to be supported. This article examines the strategic challenges facing ethnic nationalist leaders and communities at this key period in Myanmar’s history. It also addresses the roles that foreign aid can play in supporting the re-emergence of civil society in Myanmar, and advocates a policy of selective (or targeted) engagement’.

BIOGRAPHY Ashley South is an independent consultant and analyst, specialising in ethnic politics, displacement and humanitarian issues in Myanmar. He is the author of a political history of lower Myanmar: Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma: The Golden Sheldrake (RoutledgeCurzon 2003). His current research on displacement in Myanmar is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Political Transition in Myanmar: A New Model for Democratisation

Despite appearances to the contrary, the outlook for political transition in Myanmar is not entirely bleak. However, observers and activists must consider a broader range strategies for democratisation. The past year has seen a flurry of political activity in and on the country, including the government’s ‘road-map’ to democracy (see below). However, the openings for change that have emerged are quite limited. Given the oppositions’ lack of leverage, and the ineffectiveness of sanctions, the military junta will probably continue to determine the course of events. Strategies for democratisation have generally responded to the regime’s initiatives in one of two ways: either by seeking some room for manoeuvre within government-controlled forums (such as current National Convention), or by boycotting these - and reinforcing a polarisation of Myanmar politics which began in the 1960s, and has served the entrenched military government better than it has the increasingly marginalised opposition forces. Opposition groups have focused on elite-level regime change, and the need to install a more accountable government in Yangon. Such approaches are based on an assumption which is shared by the military regime: that political transition in Myanmar must come from the top-down, and be directed by the central government. (Even in a best-case scenario, the government-controlled the National Convention will only concern elite-level transition.)This notion ignores the role of civil society - which will be essential to any process of sustained democratisation. While change at the national level - whether revolutionary or gradual - is urgently required, sustained democratic transition can only be achieved if accompanied by local participation. In the current political climate, with only limited options available for national-level transition, re-emergent civil society networks represent an important vehicle for long-term, ‘bottom-up’ democratisation in Myanmar, especially in ethnic nationality areas. Furthermore, civil society actors often have access to conflict-affected areas which are out-of-bounds to international agencies. Local NGOs can implement community development and humanitarian projects in border areas, in ways which build local capacities and human capital. Although Myanmar-watchers (particularly overseas-based activists) often assume that there is no civil society in the country, this far from true. The tentative re-emergence of civil society networks within and between ethnic nationality communities has been one of the most significant - but under-examined - aspects of the social and political situation in Myanmar over the past decade. Efforts to build local democracy are already underway - in government-controlled areas, in some ethnic nationality-populated ceasefire and war zones, and in neighbouring countries. Although these local initiatives will not bring about national-level change in themselves, any centrally-directed reforms are unlikely to succeed unless accompanied – or even preceded – by such grass-roots participation. This article argues that a combination of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ strategies for democratisation are necessary, but that neither is sufficient. It examines the strategic challenges facing political leaders and communities, and particularly the ethnic nationalities, who constitute 30-40 % of the population. It also addresses the role that foreign aid can play in supporting the re-emergence of civil society in Myanmar.The promotion of civil society in Myanmar should be a priority for international donors. Rather than sitting on the sidelines, while the situation goes from bad to worse, the international community (the US, EU sand UN ) should engage with Myanmar in a constructive - if selective - manner. In this case, humanitarian and development aid are not substitutes for political intervention - but a way into political action. Of course, humanitarian principles demand that aid be given impartially, and not to further political agendas. Nevertheless, all aid has political impacts, and these should be properly calculated. Unless otherwise indicated, data comes from the author’s research in Myanmar, Thailand and China, conducted between 2001-04.Elite-level Politics and the National Convention Few would deny the urgent need for change in Myanmar but what kind of transition, and how? Some activists assume - even hope - that a repeat of the 1988 democracy uprising is likely, and that change will come abruptly. However, most key players expect a more gradual realignment, with less bloodshed, and advocate for a negotiated process of democratisation. Many are pessimistic, and draw on the experience of other countries in the region to suggest that the best hope is for gradual regime reform, without any appreciable degree of power-sharing with the opposition. Although the tactics adopted by stake-holders in these different scenarios may vary, many strategic considerations remain the same. There are three potential parties to political transition in Myanmar: the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military regime, the urban-based democracy movement, led by Daw Aung San Su Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), and various ethnic nationality parties. While the NLD and most democracy groups in exile have consistently demanded recognition of the 1990 election results as a basis for a political settlement, they have mostly come to accept the necessity for compromise, and dialogue with the SPDC. However, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to mobilise her supporters, and test the limits of the generals’ tolerance, came to a bloody end on 30th May 2004, when a government-organised mob ambushed her motorcade, killing and injuring dozens of her supporters. With ‘the lady’ in detention, international efforts to foster bi-partite dialogue between the SPDC and NLD came to a halt.Since its refusal to recognise the results of the May 1990 general election, the military government has resisted all options but a managed (by the military) transition to some type of ‘disciplined’ or ‘guided’ (by the military) democracy. On 30th August 2003 Myanmar’s newly-appointed prime minister (and Military Intelligence chief), General Khin Nyunt, announced the resumption of a National Convention to draft a new constitution - part of a seven-stage ‘road map to democracy’. (The original NC was convened in 1993, and suspended in 1996). The military government was clearly positioning itself to control a transitional process, the success and legitimacy of which depends on who participates in the NC, under what conditions. Endorsed by China, ASEAN and the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Myanmar, Razali Ismail, Khin Nyunt’s ‘road-map’ became the only political game in town - at least at the national/elite level.However, after much back-room plotting and brinkmanship, the prospects of the government-controlled NC producing significant change currently seem quite limited. Three days before the NC re-opened, on May 14th 2004, Myanmar’s two main opposition parties announced that they would not join the convention. The government failed to reassure the NLD and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA - a coalition of ethnic nationality parties: see below), that it would permit genuine debate over key issues. Although these concerns were well-founded, the NLD and UNA do not appear to have a realistic 'plan B' - and elite-level politics in Myanmar is once again dead-locked, with the government holding most of the key cards. Although most of the 1,076 delegates to the NC have been hand-picked by the government, they include over one hundred representatives from armed ethnic nationality groups, which have ceasefires with Yangon (see below). Nevertheless, in the absence of the NLD and UNA, the NC process is far from inclusive. In effect, hard-liners within the SPDC have ensured that the convention is tightly controlled by the regime, at the expense of its perceived legitimacy - both within Myanmar and abroad.With both the SPDC and NLD sticking to their principles, it might appear to some observers that the urban-based (predominantly Burman) political elites are not really trying to find solutions to Myanmar’s protracted crises. Unlike SPDC or NLD, the ceasefire groups have at least attempted to make the NC work - and use this historic opportunity to raise some of the issues which concern them, for the first time since independence. The stakes are high, and some analysts suggest that Khin Nyunt (the ‘good cop’) has been set-up to fail - while protecting Senior General Than Shwe (the ‘bad cop’ and junta chairman) from the need to reform. However, Khin Nyunt is clever and ambitious, mindful of his place in history - and therefore motivated to make his road-map work. In this, he may gain some support from army officers who oppose Than Shwe’s increasingly personalised style of rule, and diversion of resources from the military to the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA - a mass movement established in September 1993 under the SPDC Chairman’s patronage). Nevertheless, Than Shwe still calls the shots, and has seemingly suppressed open discussion of key issues within the NC. The third set of political actors in Myanmar had been largely side-lined within the UN-brokered ‘peace process’, which came to a halt following the brutal events of 30th May. The1994 and all subsequent UN General Assembly resolutions regarding Myanmar have called for a tri-partite solution to the country’s problems, involving the government, NLD (and other parties elected in 1990), and the ethnic nationalities. Many ethnic nationality cadres are wary of the NLD leadership, which is largely composed of ex-Myanmar Army officers, who share a common political culture and conceptions of state-society relations based on a strong, centralised state. However, most ethnic leaders have trusted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to demand their inclusion in any negotiations which may come out of bipartite talks in Yangon. This was a risky strategy: if an agreement had been reached between the SPDC and NLD, the process would have gained considerable momentum before ethnic nationality representatives were brought into the picture. In this case, the latter risked further marginalisation, faced with two options: either be co-opted into endorsing an agreement which they had little part in negotiating, or insist on convening a possibly lengthy inter-nationalities consultation process. In the context of any pre-exiting deal between the NLD and SPDC, such a demand might have exposed the ethnic nationalities to accusations of obstructing national reconciliation. Either scenario would suit the 'divide and rule' strategy of elements in Burman political society. Opportunities and Challenges Following a half-century of (mostly) low-intensity civil war, ethnic minority-populated areas of Myanmar are mired in a state of profound humanitarian crisis. Needs are especially acute in the fields of food and livelihoods security, education and health, and civilian protection. TThe possibility of expanded participation in the National Convention created an opportunity to re-present the importance of the ‘ethnic question’ in Myanmar, and the roles the ethnic nationalities might play in breaking the political deadlock, and beginning to address the urgent humanitarian situation. To capitalise on this limited opportunity, the different ethnic nationalist blocs would have to agree on basic strategy, and develop common positions on the main issues to be included in tri-partite negotiations. The ethnic nationalist community is composed of three elements:1. The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), representing sixty-five ethnic nationality candidates elected in 1990, which has always worked closely with the NLD;2. Some twenty armed ethnic organisations which have agreed ceasefires with Yangon since 1989, retain their arms, and sometimes still control extensive blocks territory;3. Those insurgent groups still at war with the government, most of which are members of the National Democratic Front (the NDF, established in 1976, several members of which have ceasefire agreements ). Although the insurgents remain politically and symbolically important, their military strength has declined significantly in recent years. The challenge facing Myanmar’s ethnic nationality leaders is how to engineer a degree of coherence between and within these different sectors. In doing so they risk being exposed as divided - or naïve and unrealistic - over key issues, and once again consigned to a marginal role as crucial decisions over the future of the country are made by the urban political elite. The Ceasefire Movement: 1989-2004The history of insurgency and political failure in Myanmar are closely interlinked. Since independence in 1948, and especially following the military take-over of 1962, representatives of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities have been excluded from meaningful participation in national-level politics. Historically, the ‘ethnic question’ has been at the heart of Myanmar’s protracted political, social and humanitarian crises.Although much recent political science literature has focused on the ‘opportunity motives’ for insurgency, Myanmar’s rebellions have long been driven by a mixture of genuine grievances and political-military-economic opportunism. Nevertheless, in recent years, a relatively stable ‘peace-making’ environment has emerged in many border areas. Until 1989, the Myanmar Army had been fighting two inter-connected civil wars - one against the ethnic nationalist insurgents and another against the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). With the collapse of the latter in early 1989, Yangon could concentrate its forces against the beleaguered ethnic rebels. The junta devised a classic 'divide and rule' strategy, under which ceasefire agreements were struck with individual insurgent groups, while refusing to negotiate with any joint front, such as the NDF. To the consternation of the embattled ethnic allies on the Thailand-Myanmar border, between 1989-95 ceasefire arrangements were made with a total of fifteen insurgent organisations, including Shan, Pa-O, Palaung and Kachin NDF member-groups. Whether the ceasefire process can be sustained, and move from the current ‘negative peace’- characterised by the relative absence of violence - onto a positive, ‘peace-building’ phase, will be fundamental to the success of reconstruction and national reconciliation efforts. The nature of the ceasefire agreements are not uniform, although in all cases the ex-insurgents have retained their arms, and still control sometimes extensive blocks of territory (in recognition of the military situation on the ground). The ceasefires are not peace treaties, and generally lack all but the most rudimentary accommodation of the ex-insurgents’ political and developmental demands. In some quarters, these agreements have been dismissed as benefiting vested interests in the military regime and insurgent hierarchies. However, they also represent opportunities to work towards the rehabilitation of deeply troubled communities.However, ceasefires do not guarantee sustainable peace and development. Major displacements of civilian populations have occurred after ceasefires were agreed between the government and armed ethnic groups in Kachin (1994) and Mon (1995) States. Although armed conflict-induced displacement came to an end in these areas, families and communities continue to loose their land and become displaced, as a result of increased natural resource extraction (logging, and jade and gold mining) and infrastructure development. Another cause of post-ceasefire displacement is increased militarisation (despite the cessation of armed conflict) and the Myanmar Army’s expansion into previously contested areas. The KNU CeasefireA potentially significant development occurred in December 2003, when the Karen National Union (KNU), the last major insurgent group in Myanmar, agreed a ceasefire with the military government - although the details of this arrangement are still being worked-out. The KNU’s fifty-five years of dogged resistance to the Myanmar military (the KNU went underground in 1949) has given the Karen ethno-nationalist movement a special symbolic weight in Myanmar politics. If Karen leaders in exile and inside Myanmar can grasp the moment, they may be able to engage politically with the regime from ‘within the legal fold’, while addressing the urgent needs of Karen society. It is however, an open secret that the KNU is being pushed by the Thai government into a hasty agreement with Yangon. Understandably, Thailand wants rid of the 150,000 (mostly Karen) refugees in the kingdom, and is keen to exploit the economic opportunities that peace may bring to its borders. However, Thai pressure risks splitting the KNU into pro- and anti-ceasefire (and -NC) factions, and could yet wreck the fragile truce. Thailand’s long-term interests would be better served by allowing the Karen to proceed at their own pace. The apparent end to armed conflict in Karen State comes as increasing numbers of INGOs enter Myanmar. International agencies may, for the first time in decades, have the opportunity to address the deep-seated humanitarian and development problems in border areas - if they work in partnership with local civil society, in ways which address some of the route causes of the armed conflict. In their talks with the government, KNU negotiators have emphasised the extent of the displacement crisis in Myanmar, and suggested that the plight of up to million internally displaced people (IDPs) be addressed, before any refugee repatriation is undertaken. Most aid workers agree that the time is not yet right to begin sending refugees back from Thailand. Any attempts to assist displaced Karen villagers must take account of the on-going problems experienced by conflict-affected populations in other parts of Myanmar. The protection of civilians must be a priority. At a minimum, land-mine clearance should proceed any major re-settlement initiative.Quite properly, UNHCR has discussed refugee repatriation options with the Thai authorities, and with the Myanmar government. However, crucial aspects of UN (and INGO) access to proposed IDP and refugee repatriation-resettlement zones have yet to be agreed. In March 2004 UNHCR announced that it had negotiated access to refugee return areas in eastern Myanmar. With funding of about $1 million for 2004, UNHCR will support projects in community health education and de-mining. Under its arrangement with the government, the UN refugee agency has gained access to seven of the eleven townships in Myanmar (Tenasserim Division, Mon State and Karen State) from which the majority of refugees in Thailand have fled - i.e. for the first time, UNHCR will have access to Thailand border areas via Yangon. Having visited several of these areas, in mid-2004, UNHCR was making initial preparations to up-grade infrastructure in areas of possible refugee return; health and education programs are reportedly to be implemented through the Myanmar Red Cross (heavily infiltrated by Military Intelligence) and the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (led by General Khin Nyunt’s wife). Unlike along the Thailand side of the border, where it has three field offices, UNHCR is apparently not going to open offices in return areas (e.g. the Karen State capital, Pa’an). The UN will be present by proxy only, will not be operational on the ground, and will not therefore be unable to provide a protective presence.Inter-ethnic Politics There is a fairly high degree of coherence between the policies of the UNA parties and the rump NDF. More problematic are the positions of various ceasefire groups. The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) have taken the lead among a group six politically engaged ceasefire groups, most of which are ex-NDF members. The NMSP in particular plays an important role, with a foot in all three camps of the ethnic nationality community: it is the closest of the ceasefire groups to the rump NDF, and also enjoys good relations with the UNA leadership.However, the positions of a number of ex-CPB and other militias in northern Myanmar have been less clear. Wa, Kokang and PaO leaders may feel that there is more to be gained by following the SPDC line, and staying clear of politics, in order to concentrate on local community and economic development programs (including, in some cases, the drugs trade). Some observers have expected the SPDC to offer further concessions to individual ceasefire groups, in exchange for their support (or at least, acquiescence) in efforts to complete the National Convention. However, since late 2003 the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and other northern Shan State ceasefire groups have adopted positions similar to the KIO-NMSP camp - i.e. that the ‘sixth objective’ of the NC, which guarantees “military participation in the future state” is unacceptable, and that amendments are necessary to some of the 104 articles of the proposed constitution, agreed between 1993-96. Despite the military government’s longstanding policies of ‘divide and rule’ vis-à-vis the ethnic nationalities, in mid-2004 they seemed more united that at any time in recent years. However, it was still far from unclear whether their concerns would be addressed by the NC. Indeed, on May 11th the ceasefire groups were informed that their demands would not be met by the government. It seemed therefore that the National Convention would not be open to genuine political debate or social comment.The issue of federalism illustrates the gulf between the government and ethnic nationality representatives. Although this is anathema to the generals in Yangon, most ethnic nationality parties in Myanmar are committed in principle to a federal solution to Myanmar’s constitutional crisis. However, there are different ‘federalising’ and ‘federating’ processes, various kinds of relation between the states and union, and different types of federal structure. In recent years, ethnic nationality and pan-Myanmar democracy groups in exile have begun to discuss such arrangements in detail, paying special attention the situation of minorities within ethnically-defined states - e.g. the Wa and other minorities in Shan State. The Limits of a Top-Down ApproachGiven the competing/ complementary ‘constructive engagement’ policies of ASEAN and China, and the limited impact of US, UN and EU fulminations against the SPDC, it is difficult to see how pressure can be brought to bear on Yangon, beyond indirect support for the ‘progressive’ Khin Nyunt faction. Furthermore, the opposition - and the ethnic nationalities in particular - have limited leverage vis-à-vis the government. Given its past record and recent pronouncements, it is therefore quite likely that the SPDC will refuse to discuss issues such as federalism and power-sharing, or even sensitive areas like human and group rights. Remaining for a moment at the level of inter-elite negotiations, it is worth considering whether - in the event of continued deadlock - social welfare and humanitarian issues could be used to facilitate processes of dialogue, and eventually social and political transition. In addressing subjects like displacement (refugees and Internally Displaced Persons), education or HIV/AIDS in the first stage of any ‘confidence-building’ process, stake-holders might be brought into needs analysis, planning, implementation and monitoring-evaluation activities, which could be used to foster models of collaboration. Cooperation in the humanitarian sector might later be expanded, and developed into broader, more explicitly political discussions of state-society and centre-periphery relations. A focus on IDPs in particular, would help to ensure ethnic nationality participation in such processes, as most of Myanmar’s two million-plus displaced people are from ethnic minority communities.For humanitarian issues to become vehicles for transformative dialogue and peace-building would require careful preparation, including consultation with affected communities, and local and international agencies. This is one example of how elite-level ‘blue-print’-style approaches - based on a policy of ‘coherence’ - can be complemented by more participatory approaches, which involve and empower a wider range of actors. Given the government’s lack of incentive to engage in dialogue, civil society-based ‘development from below’ approaches may be considered valuable in their own right, as well being as an alternative means to gradual democratisation.Civil Society: a Vehicle for DemocratisationIn this article, the term ‘civil society’ is derived from de Tocqueville, and denotes voluntary associations and networks which are intermediate between the state and the family. These include a broad range of community-based organisations (CBOs), media and social welfare organisations, as well as religious and cultural groups (traditional and modern), and more overtly political organisations. However, political parties seeking to assume state power are not part of civil society - although they may promote or inhibit its development.Functioning civil society networks are essential for sustained, ‘bottom-up’ social and political transition in Myanmar, and for conflict resolution at both the national and local levels. It is essential that the country’s diverse social and ethnic communities enjoy a sense of ownership in any transitional process, and equip themselves to fill the power vacuum that may emerge, either as a result of abrupt shifts in national politics, or of a more gradual withdrawal of the military from state and local power. The ability of people to organise, and re-assume control over aspects of their lives which since the 1960s have been abrogated by the military (including insurgent armies), will depend on such grass-roots mobilisation.Popular participation and civil society networks are necessary, whether change in Myanmar comes suddenly, or is more incremental. Indeed, the failure of the 1988 ‘Democracy Uprising’ in Burma - like that of the 1989 ‘Democracy Spring’ in China - can in part be attributed to the suppression of civil society under authoritarian rule. A lack of democratic culture prevented powerful political gestures from initiating sustained change. Unlike those in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, the Philippines in 1986 and Thailand in 1992, the Burmese and Chinese democracy activists had little social space within which to operate, or to build upon the people’s evident desire for fundamental change. In particular, Myanmar and China had no counterpart to the trades unions, which played important roles in the Polish and Filipino democracy movements. The regime had succeeded in denying social groups a foothold in mainstream politics or the economy, except under strict state control. Potential opposition was thereby marginalised, and could emerge only in times of crisis and upheaval, presenting the military with a pretext to clamp-down on ‘anarchy’ and ‘chaos’ (thus the State Law and Order Restoration Council - SLORC).Myanmar Army ideologues have long viewed their task as the defence of a centralised, unitary state, which emerged from the struggle for independence. The military has sought to impose a model of state-society relations, in which the (ethnic minority) periphery was dominated by a strong (Burman-orientated) centre. As pluralism was suppressed, it was replaced with a state-sponsored nationalism. The process of ‘Burmanisation’ saw diverse (and according to the military, divisive) minority cultures, histories and aspirations subsumed under a homogenising ‘national’ identity, derived from the Burman historical tradition. In the 1960s, as the state extended its control over previously autonomous aspects of social life, civil society networks could no longer operate independently. Opposition to the regime was either eliminated, driven underground, or forced into open revolt. The existence of renewed armed opposition to the military government provided a pretext for the further extension of state control, and suppression of diverse social groups deemed antipathetic to the modernizing state-socialist project. According to David Steinberg, “civil society died under the BSPP; perhaps, more accurately, it was murdered.” The 1974 constitution effectively outlawed all political activity beyond the strict control of the state. Particularly hard hit were trades unions and most professional associations (e.g. journalists’ groups). However, other aspects of civil society survived, albeit in a dormant form.Since 1988, state-society relations have been further centralised, and social control reinforced by the indoctrination of civil servants, reformation of local militias, and creation of new mass organisations, like the USDA. Beyond this highly circumscribed sector, the operation of independent political parties, such as the NLD and UNA, has been severely restricted, as have freedoms of expression and association, and access to information and independent media. Nevertheless, elements of civil society have survived, and are beginning to re-emerge.Civil Society Actors in MyanmarOverseas-based activists and Myanmar-watchers sometimes assume that there is no civil society in the country. This is far from true. Extensive civil society networks, building on local capacities and social capital, exist in and between the ceasefire and warzones of Myanmar, as well as in areas under government control (the majority of the country).Zones of On-going Armed ConflictAlthough, especially since 1988, most insurgent groups have claimed to be fighting for democracy in Myanmar, this ideal is not always reflected in their practices. Many aspects of life in the ‘liberated zones’ have been characterised by a top-down tributary political system, aspects of which recall pre-colonial forms of socio-political organisation. Insurgent leaders have tended to discourage the expression of diverse opinions, and socio-political initiatives beyond the direct control of militarised hierarchies have often been suppressed.However, in recent years, civil society networks have begun to expand in non-government controlled areas. As their ex-cold war patrons, China and Thailand, withdrew support from Myanmar’s ethnic insurgents in the 1980s and ‘90s, the rebel armies declined in military - and thus political - significance. Ironically though, the decline of the old insurgent paradigm opened the space for the emergence of new and more participatory forms of social and political organisation among opposition ethnic nationality communities. In the 1990s a number of local NGOs were organised by Chin, Kachin, Shan, Lahu, Karenni, Karen, Tavoyan, Mon and all-Myanmar student and youth, women’s, environmental and human rights groups in the border areas. These began to occupy the political space created by the declining influence of mainstream armed groups. Representing new models of organisation, these networks constituted one of the most dynamic aspects in an otherwise bleak political scene. As a result of their activities, those engaged in the struggle for ethnic rights and self-determination in Myanmar have been obliged to acknowledge the importance of women’s rights, community-level participation and democratic practices - not just as distant goals, but as on-going processes. Since the 1990s, the NMSP, KNU and other armed organisations have been challenged to reassess their records, and examine the degree to which their strategies reflected these ideals.In a parallel development, the refugee and other relief and welfare organisations along the Thailand border also grew in interesting ways. Like the women’s and youth wings associated with most insurgent groups, the Karen, Karenni and Mon refugee committees were originally controlled by dominant factions within the insurgent hierarchy. As the latter lost ground throughout the 1990s, the number of refugees in Thailand grew annually, and assumed a new importance as civilian support base, source of recruits and safe haven for the armed groups. However, as the refugee situation along Thailand border was gradually internationalised, with the presence of more INGOs - and since 1998, UNHCR - the refugee committees were obliged to become more responsive to (if not more representative of) their clients, the refugees. A particularly dynamic sub-sector was composed of local relief and development groups which continued to work cross-border, with displaced communities inside Myanmar. Since the early 1990s, Karen - and later Chin, Shan, Karenni and Mon - teams have provided humanitarian relief (food and medicines) and undertaken community development and educational work among displaced communities, in what had once been the ‘liberated zones’ (behind the front-lines of war), but were now mostly zones of on-going armed conflict. For example, there is a network of some 400 Karen village schools inside Myanmar, most of which are loosely supervised by the KNU Education Department (KED). In many areas, these schools consist of little more than a few bamboo benches under the trees, which must move repeatedly, as villagers are displaced by the on-going armed conflict. In the face of such difficulties, many IDP communities attempt to provide their children with some form of continuity, and a basic education. In a sometimes uneasy partnership with local teachers and self-help organisations, the KED attempts to standardise the curriculum and examinations within this massively under-funded system, which still enjoys close links with schools in the refugee camps.Like the new refugee-based organisations, IDP assistance groups have developed relatively independently of their ‘parent’ insurgent organisations - although they still rely on the latter for security, and share most of the same broad ethno-nationalist goals. In demonstrating transparency and accountability to donors and beneficiaries (their local communities), these civil society networks have emerged as important models of social mobilisation. Ceasefire and Government-Controlled AreasAlthough the state generally inhibits their formation, a variety of local civil society networks exist among ethnic nationality communities ‘inside’ Myanmar. These include Christian and Buddhist organisations, and many traditional village associations (e.g. funeral societies), as well as more formally-established CBOs and local NGOs (e.g. literature and culture associations and business-support groups). The tentative re-emergence of civil society networks among and between local communities in Myanmar is a complex phenomenon, owing much to the political space created by the ceasefire process since 1989. Other factors in the realignment of state-society relations during this period include the increased presence of INGOs in Myanmar, and the partial opening of the economy in the early 1990s.Villagers in many ceasefire and adjacent areas continue to have their rights abused by the Myanmar Army (and local militias). However, the ceasefire process has generally resulted in a decrease in the most extreme and arbitrary types of violence associated with the armed conflict, while increasing opportunities for travel and trade. The ceasefires are not peace treaties, and generally lack all but the most rudimentary accommodation of the ex-insurgents’ political and developmental demands. Furthermore, ethnic nationalist cadres are generally more familiar with the ‘top-down’ approaches used in military and political campaigns, than with ‘bottom-up’ development and conflict resolution methods. As elsewhere in the country, local initiatives are frequently undermined by poor governance, parallel exploitative practices, and a lack of strategic planning and implementation capacities. Nevertheless, the ceasefires have created some opportunities for the reconstruction of war-torn communities. Patterns of development - and stagnation - are mixed. Over the past ten years, extensive community networks within the clan-based Kachin society have re-emerged in the space created by the relatively stable Kachin ceasefires. Meanwhile, further to the South, since the 1995 NMSP-SLORC ceasefire, the Mon Women’s Organisation (MWO) has succeeded in extending its community development, income generation and adult literacy activities beyond the NMSP-controlled zones, to Mon communities across lower Myanmar. Like the KIO and other armed ethnic groups, the NMSP administers education and health systems, which rely on community and donor support. Despite some serious setbacks, during the 2002-03 school year the party managed to run 187 Mon National Schools and 186 ‘mixed’ schools (shared with the state system), attended by more than 50,000 pupils, 70% of whom live in government-controlled areas. (Strictly speaking, as it is implemented by the NMSP Education Department, this is a para-state - or local authority - system, rather than a civil society initiative.)Although the NMSP and other ceasefire groups have provided the political and military ‘space’ within which civil society may re-emerge, the key players over the past decade have often been members of religious and social welfare networks. Many of these were established in the 1950s, only to be suppressed after 1962. In recent years, the Chin, Karen, Mon, PaO, Shan and other Literature and Culture Committees have been among the few specifically ethnic organisations tolerated by the government. As the state education system has deteriorated, such groups have pioneered alternative community education approaches. For example, in 2003 about 55,000 school students attended Summer Mon Literature and Buddhist Teachings Trainings across lower Myanmar. The motivation for such local initiatives is usually welfare- or development-oriented, rather than explicitly political. Whatever their individual views, the initiators of ‘development from below’ are primarily religious or community workers. Thus far, few indigenous NGOs have been allowed to register legally with the authorities. The two most well-known were established after the KIO ceasefire. The Shalom Foundation was founded in 2001 by the Reverend Saboi Jum, a key figure in the ceasefire process. It employs 12 full-time staff, and works on mediation and conflict resolution issues, building capacity in these key sectors.The Metta Development Foundation was established in 1998, and by 2003 had a budget of over $500,000, and 13 full-time staff. Although its importance to the broader scale of development initiatives in Myanmar should not be overestimated, Metta is often viewed as a success story, which other fledgling local NGOs might emulate. Metta has projects in Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon States, and the Irrawaddy Delta, which employ participatory methods, leading to the creation of CBOs, and action plans and project proposals. Metta also implements income generation projects, health worker training, water and sanitation projects, and a number of successful rural development schemes. However, Metta Director Daw Seng Raw, has complained that:“many ethnic groups feel extremely disappointed that in general foreign governments are not responding to the progress of these ceasefire or indeed even understand their significance or context. Rather, it seems that certain sectors of the international community have the fixed idea that none of the country’s deep problems, including ethnic minority issues, can be addressed until there is an over-arching political solution based upon developments in Rangoon. In contrast, the ceasefire groups believe ... that simply concentrating on the political stalemate in Rangoon and waiting for political settlements to come about ... is simply not sufficient to bring about the scale of changes that are needed.” New organisations like Metta and Shalom are not countrywide institutions or membership groups, but often act as facilitators and innovators for longer-established associations. In many cases these are religious bodies - among the few non-government controlled social institutions allowed to exist in Myanmar. The Anglican, Baptist, Catholic and other churches in Myanmar have well over two million members. Although most of their activities are religious-pastoral, the churches devote considerable energy and resources (including some international funds) to education, social welfare and community development projects, including in armed conflict-affected areas. However, they also face considerable skills and capacity constraints. Although emergent civil society networks in Myanmar are often associated with Christianity, many Buddhist associations exist too. Many senior monks may have been co-opted by the military regime, but the sangha still has great potential as a catalyst in civil and political affairs. However, Buddhist and other traditional networks tend to be localised, and cantered on individual monks, who may not conceptualise or present their aims in a manner readily intelligible to western agencies. Such non-formal approaches are therefore often ‘invisible’ to western (and western-trained) staff. Foreign Aid and Civil SocietyIn June 2001 the heads of mission of eight UN agencies in Yangon publicly expressed their concern over the “silent humanitarian crisis in the making”, stating that “assistance to Myanmar is a moral and ethical necessity.” They further noted that “strengthening human capital, developing leadership capacity, and encouraging a more dynamic civil society will contribute to laying the foundations for democratic processes.” International humanitarian agencies have developed a language of partnership with affected communities, and generally try to elicit local participation in their programs (as codified for the emergency sector in the SPHERE Project, initiated in 1997). On the Thailand border in particular, such doctrines have helped to create the space for more responsive and participatory community organisations to emerge among refugee communities. However, INGOs along the border rarely employ local people in senior decision-making positions, and their programs sometimes inadvertently undermine local initiatives (e.g. INGO-funded refugee camp education and health projects draw local teachers and medics away from under-resourced indigenous health and school systems). Meanwhile, a number of Myanmar-specific NGOs and donors have been rather uncritical in sustaining organisations and individuals within the Myanmar opposition. Foreign aid has sometimes supported elements within ethnic nationality and democracy groups, without considering the degree to these are accountable to the communities they claim to represent. International agencies based in Yangon also have a mixed record in their relationship with civil society groups. Since 1993, UNDP activities in Myanmar have been restricted to “programmes having grass-roots-level impact in a sustainable manner.” This mandate, which is highly unusual for the UN, is designed to limit the agency’s engagement with the government. The UNDP Human Development Initiative works “particularly in the areas of primary health care, the environment, HIV/AIDS, training and education, and food security.” Now in its fourth phase, funding for the initiative has been halved, in part due to scepticism over the agency’s ability to implement the kind of locally-owned programs required.Unlike most UN agencies, the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) engages directly with ceasefire groups. In partnership with the government and UWSA, the UNODC has built schools, dams and other facilities in the Wa sub-state, and has had some success in reducing opium cultivation in Kokang and UWSA-controlled areas. However, according to a recent assessment, “community development concepts … sometimes conflicted with the top-down (Wa) Authority approach. When efforts were made to involve the villagers … the Authority felt threatened.” Although the UNODC has responded to UWSA calls for more infrastructure and agricultural assistance, efforts to promote community development and the emergence of CBOs have been largely unsuccessful. However, the UN has recently negotiated an agreement with the UWSA, under which community-based development methods will be tolerated by the Wa authorities. Another area where the UN may address humanitarian needs, while developing the roles and capacities of local civil society, is HIV/AIDS programing. International agencies in Myanmar have access to a $35M fund, as part of a coordinated HIV/AIDS campaign. Donors view this initiative as a test case for whether the UN system in Myanmar can carve out a sphere of greater independence, and exert a greater influence over government policy. Another key issue is whether the UN and INGOs can establish mechanisms for building CBO aid absorption capacity in this sector.Like the UN agencies, most INGOs in Myanmar concentrate on humanitarian needs, although some (e.g. CARE, SCF-UK, Swissaid, World Concern and World Vision) implement a broader range of development-oriented programs. While many international agencies would like to develop deeper partnerships with civil society groups in Myanmar, the great majority of UN and INGO projects are implemented directly at the village level, by-passing local NGOs - although sometimes fostering the emergence of CBOs. Limited coordination between international and Myanmar actors can result in the former replicating indigenous programs, undermining local initiatives in the process. For example, in 2003 at the jade mining centre of Hpakant (Kachin State) two UN agencies, three or more INGOs and two local NGOS are planning or already implementing HIV/AIDS projects. It is therefore encouraging that representatives of international (including UN) agencies and local NGOs met at the Shalom Centre in May 2003, to discuss the coordination of development activities in Kachin State.As noted above, INGOs should endeavour to employ local staff in decision-making positions - but this can create problems. As has been the case along the Thailand border, international agencies in Myanmar have sometimes recruited staff from CBOs and local NGOs, contributing towards a 'brain drain' of individuals away from indigenous to international organisations, which offer higher salaries and more opportunities for skills development.Only one Yangon-based INGO works exclusively though local partners. It receives project proposals from CBOs and local NGOs every week, which often demonstrate a lack of strategic planning. In an effort to address such concerns, many national INGO staff - and some from local NGOs - have received training at specialised institutes outside Myanmar. Among the most significant capacity-building networks is the Thailand-based Spirit in Education Movement (SEM) which, since 1996, has provided grass-roots leadership training and support for management skills and participatory techniques to several hundred Myanmar nationals. For many members of the sangha in particular, these trainings have been their first exposure to community development methods. Although the role of foreign aid is limited, it can contribute towards the creation of an enabling environment, strengthening local efforts to achieve peace and development. It is vital that donors and international agencies entering Myanmar - either via refugee communities, cross-border or through Yangon - realise that they are not operating in a void. Impressive local initiatives exist, and are worthy of support. The challenge is how to foster the growth of civil society, without overwhelming its limited absorption capacities.Donors should not just concentrate on a narrow set of professionalised (western) NGOs. Rather, by fostering the development of local NGOs and civil society, a ‘nexus’ between development and democracy may gradually emerge.However, Myanmar civil society is still under-developed, and changes coming from the sector will be gradual. It will take decades to re-shape state-society relations in Myanmar: civil society is a long-term vehicle for socio-political change. Nevertheless, humanitarian and longer-term development assistance in remote, armed conflict-affected areas can be implemented in ways which address underlying structures of violence and injusticeConflict resolution must go beyond the necessary first stage of ceasefire negotiation. Given that displacement may not come to an end with the cessation of armed conflict, any negotiated settlement to Myanmar’s protracted state-society and centre-periphery conflicts must address issues of land and other social and economic rights, and take account of the complexity of displacement crises in rural Myanmar. Many of the problems faced in armed conflict-affected areas are common across Myanmar. However, the stakes in the ceasefire zones and adjacent areas are higher, as the breakdown of the ceasefire process would undermine actual and potential peace-building and development initiatives. Although the impact of the ceasefires has been mixed, the consequences of their failure would be devastating. However, if the ceasefires can be turned into vehicles for the reconstruction of local communities and economies, they may promote reconciliation and reform in Myanmar, and over time foster the emergence of genuine peace.Humanitarian AccessInternational organisations do not have direct access to most armed conflict-affected zones in Myanmar. The UN system and INGOs should challenge the government for greater access to needy populations.In the meantime, local NGOs operating on both sides of the ‘front line’ are implementing important humanitarian and community development projects, in areas of current or recent armed conflict, such as Karen State. In the context of a KNU ceasefire, and increased international attention to the humanitarian crises in rural Myanmar, it is important that aid interventions be conducted in partnership with these local actors, and that opportunities of empowering civil society are not overlooked.Local, national and (to a very limited degree) international organisations did helped to re-settle IDPs and refugees, and reconstruct displaced communities, in the Kachin and Mon States in the 1990s. Following ceasefires in these areas, refugee repatriation was arranged by NGOs, (ex-)insurgent groups and local refugee committees, under pressure from the host country (China and Thailand). However, both the 1992-94 Kachin IDP and refugee resettlement (60- 70,000 people), and 1996 Mon refugee repatriation (10,000 people) were undermined by a lack of international support, and obstructed by the military government. They therefore failed to move beyond the ceasefire stage, to address underlying issues - i.e. there was no ‘peace-building’ stage.The Limits of a Bottom-Up ApproachCritics of a civil society-based approach to democratisation in Myanmar may accuse local networks of being compromised and co-opted by the regime, or at least naively apolitical (‘subaltern civil society’). However, many local NGOs and CBOs have forged the space within which to work for ‘development from below’, and build networks of independent, community-level participation. These locally-rooted associations undermine the ideological and practical basis of military rule, creating autonomous spaces, at least in limited spheres. However, local NGOs and CBOs have limited capacities, and it is important to re-state that most are focussed on welfare initiatives (including - but usually implicitly - social change), rather than political goals. Many (especially non-Christian) local associations are unfamiliar with the rational-bureaucratic frameworks employed by donors, which may lead to non-formal CBOs ‘falling beneath the radar’ of international observers. Furthermore, the civil society sector is not immune to rivalries, opportunism, ‘rent-seeking’ or corruption. The most substantial constraint on the growth of civil society in Myanmar is government distrust. Nevertheless, the past five-ten year have seen a partial (and contested) re-adjustment of state-society relations.Efforts to empower civil society and support ‘bottom-up’ democratisation in Myanmar have been hostage to other political agendas - in particular, the struggle for national-level political change. The NLD and other stake-holders want to see a national/ elite-level political settlement in place, before they endorse local development activities. It is argued that relief and development work ‘inside’ the country will ‘let the SPDC off the hook’, by providing goods and services that are the responsibility of government. Although such caveats should be taken seriously, local NGOs and CBOs are able to deliver humanitarian and other forms of assistance in ways which build local capacities, strengthen protection, and contribute towards longer-term reconstruction efforts - results which cannot be depicted as strengthening the SPDC. Nevertheless, many agencies are constrained in the ability to support the re-emergence of civil society in Myanmar, due to the western (especially US) sanctions regime. Having it Both Ways: Towards a Hybrid StrategyThe re-emergence of civil society networks is not in itself sufficient to bring about national-level political transition. This will require concerted, explicitly political actions by political elites. In the meantime, civil society networks can prepare the way for democratic participation, and are worthy of support in their own right - regardless of national-level politics.Myanmar presents a structured - and highly dynamic - environment of conflict. Ceasefires on the ground are an essential first step towards addressing the needs of rural communities, and building local participation and ‘democracy from below’. In the meantime however, sustainable change is still (urgently) required at the elite level.In the current political climate, with only limited options available for national-level transition, re-emergent civil society networks represent an important vehicle for long-term, ‘bottom-up’ democratisation in Myanmar. Local NGOs and CBOs promote grass-roots social mobilisation and - potentially - political participation. As well as their intrinsic value, these local networks can form the base for democratisation at the national level, and help to ensure that political transition is sustained, and takes root in local communities. The promotion of civil society in Myanmar therefore relates to the constitutional concept of ‘countervailance’, in which sovereignty resides in plural points of power, with checks and balances to preclude the centralisation of authority.The voluntary sector in Myanmar is still under-developed; changes coming from civil society will be gradual, and need to be supported. International donors society should therefore foster supportive, long-term relationships with local associations. (Efforts should be made to avoid working only with elites: analysis and planning should focus on the participation of women, ethnic and religious minorities, and other marginalised and potentially vulnerable groups). Myanmar needs better-targeted aid - but not necessarily much more money. Different actors can play different roles, based on a shared vision of a future democratic Myanmar. Some agencies will take a ‘hard-line’ position, campaigning against the regime from outside Myanmar, while others adopt a ‘softer’ mode, to work inside the country. Such a coordinated approach is in line with calls by the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Myanmar for an 'orchestrated' international strategy. This approach is likely to appeal to regional (ASEAN and Japanese) governments, and might be termed ‘selective (or targeted) engagement’.

Generals' Fear: The Urkrain Scenario in Burma?

The Urkrain Scenario in Burma?

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Several days ago I wrote a "Compiler's Remark" on what the generals in Rangoon would most definitely see as Washington's finger prints re: the hotly contested and controversial election outcome in Ukraine.

Obviously, Moscow considers Ukraine a component of the former USSR, which continues to serve as a stratgic building block in its geo-political and economic power base. It is conceivable that our country, Burma, will be caught in the similar tug of war between the existing global power Washington and the rising China, and perhaps even India.

The longer we as a nation remain locked in this internal power struggle, open or simmering - between the Burman political elite and minorities and between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her followers and the military leadership - the greater the prospect for serious external involvement.

Independent Burma was deeply rooted in the leftist ideologies of various brands from the very beginning. All governments in Burma had been red - from 1948-88. The difference was in the degree, not in kind. Some write off Ne Win's rule as a sham leftist rule. But the truth was Ne Win was staunchly anti-capitalist and installed doctrinaire socialist advisors to key positions. The imprisoned NLD co-founder U Win Tin (and his peers and comrades in the Upper Burma Literary Roundtable - known as Saturday Literary Roundtable -) were the critics who critiqued Ne Win's policies against the yardstick of what they considered "real socialism."

Both Premier U Nu and General Ne Win cleverly steered Burma out of the Cold War - for different personal and political reasons.

Nu served as an intellectual founding father of the Non-aligned movement of the newly independent states in the then emerging Third World, working with Nehru, Shkarno, and the like in the 1950s. His foreign policy was activistic neutralism. He was personally involved in facilitating many secret negotiations among parties in conflict in Asian region caught in the Cold War power struggles. Domestically, Nu was using Buddhism as the best defense - after a fledgling-army supported by Nehru's India - against domestic the Chinese-backed communist armed resistance and pro-independence armed movements of ethnic minorities.

General Ne Win, by contrast, completely shut down the country and actively pursued isolationist policies as a way to shield Burma from what he saw as external influences and threats - from both left and rightist camps of the Cold War. His reign was attractive to Washington because they were both pursuing the Containment strategies toward the Communist-inspired rebellions in Burma (and for the latter, around the world). Washington gave him millions in aid and invited him on a state visit to the White House during President Johnson's Administration.

As a result, over the past 50 years since Burma's independence, successive governments in Rangoon escaped being drawn into any serious power struggle between powerful nations with political ambitions beyond their national boundaries. Of course, there is always a price the people of a given nation pay for the choices their leaders, elected or self-appointed, make.

Reasonable people can disagree what is the best course of action for Burma. But one thing is clear - the responsibility to steer clear of - or, to be blunt, to make the best national use - of these geo-political conflictsamong the global existing and emerging powers lies with every politically minded citizen of Burma.

To be sure, the ruling military regime has to bear the greatest responsibility to address the geo-political realities; but the NLD leadership is not without its share of responsibility in this regard because it has come to serve as one of the two hooks for the West as far as our country's internal politics. The other is ethnic nationalities or minority groups with access to the West.

Burma could not simply be the worst case scenario while we have countries such as Congo where over 30,000 people die a month as a result of internal conflict or Sudan where there is a serious humanitarian and political crisis. There are no free lunches in politics, domestic or international. No nation on earth conducts its foreign policy or offer humanitarian assistance out of sheer humanism or altruism.

It risks extreme danger to our nation's long-term national interest for any Burmese, especially the mainstream Burmese, to think that outsiders, far or near, Western or Asian, democrats or autocrats, have answers to our nation's problems or are better positioned to solve our country's internal problems. The mess in Burma is ours and ours alone.

Crying wolf for so long has created the twin-mentality of dependency and victim mentality. And neither is conducive to freedom.Solving our country's political impasse will take more than crying wolf or wishing Mr. Kofi Anan, whom the UN-bashing American conservatives are attempting to oust from his post, to come and mediate the domestic conflict in Rangoon or facilitate tri-partite dialogue which some of us in the opposition want.

Although Burma is not a stratgic priority, Washington has led the external push for reform and has given the NLD the leverage of econimic sanctions and diplomatic wrangling.

Almost all the key U.S. institutions named in the article on US involvement in Ukrainian elections have been involved in various pro-NLD, pro-Aung San Suu Kyi-initiatives.

Within Burma's domestic politics, China is said to have given security guarantees to the Wa, the current drug-producing ceasefire minority group which used to make up the rank and file of the Beijing-backed Burma Communist Party of Thakhin Than Tun, Thakhin Ba Thein Tin and Brigadier Kyaw Zaw, one of the several remaining members of the mythologized Thirty Comrades.

At the same time, internationally and regionally, China is also believed to serve as the Burmese regime's protector. Historically, Beijing has considered many neighboring Asian states its vessel states. The Burmese have had roller coaster relations with China over the past 1000 years. The country has a very long border with China's economically underdeveloped interior province of Yunan.

We should do well to remind ourselves that Beijing's tacit view of Burma may not differ much from that of Moscow toward Ukraine - Rangoon as its Southern most key strategic building block. We would not wish our country an intense American-Indian-Chinese-and-Japanese contest of will on our soil in the foreseeable future.

What would complicate the Burmese equation is the pent-up resentment - and outright hatred toward the Burmese majority in certain cases certain minorities. The longer the ethnic conflict remains unresolved to everyone's satisfaction, the deeper and more explosive the ethnic conflict will get. There is already a widespread suspicion that despite whatever the current policies of Thailand or China toward Burma, once there is a balkan scenario in Burma fueled by latent pro-independence aspirations among many ethnic minorities, some of Burma's neighbors will gleefully embrace any splintering minority groups into their nations. National boundaries are not eternal and nation states are fictions jealously guarded and fiercely protected.

The desire for power and greed may be what primarly compel the Buddhist generals in Rangoon to hold onto what they have. But we must not miscalculate their strategic equations based on the intense ideology of nationalism - the one they appear to feel genuinely, however it may sound serving to us 'self-styled' democrats. Whether delusional or genuine, the greatest concern for them is national disintegration. Whether conceited or sincere, no military leadership, pragmatist or hardline, internationalist or traditionalist, believes that the democratic opposition can ever hold the country together.

In the eyes of the generals, the opposition, leadership or rank and file, can't even get its act together. To them, the opposition has become nothing but a strategic and policy tool for Brussels, Washington and London. While the generals have not shown any aptitude toward nation building tasks, our opposition has not demonstrated that we are capable of finding resolution to our 14-years old political deadlock.

Short of asking them to return to the barracks, there still exist opportunities for the opposition leadership, as well as the rank and file, to establish common ground with our oppressors, beyond calling them murderers or thugs or accusing them wildly of exporting HIV/AIDS, refugees or drugs. Some opposition may be generous with their attitude toward the generals when they publicly say they will accept the military's role in politics.

But the truth of the matter is the generals do not need our generosity or liberal attiude toward them. They are the national politics, like it or not. We need to wake up from our dreams.

It seems categorically futile to keep trying the failed approach of condemning and cursing at the generals, shouting on top of our lungs the ever-elusive unity among disparate opposition groups with no viable common agenda, and adopting this fundamentalistic "My-Leader-Right-or-Wrong" attittude.One thing is clear.

The generals in Rangoon will do anything in their power to avoid the Ukraine scenario when they hold elections - whenever. Legitimate or not, they will grind through this chapter in our country's historical development. Putin may bend his way and accept the new political realities in Kieve if the re-election costs him pro-Moscow ally in its neighborhood. Neither Beijing nor Rangoon appears prepared to live with the opposition party in power which they consider little more than Washington's puppet.


U.S. Money Helped Opposition in Ukraine
34 minutes ago, December 10, 2004AP

By MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has spent more than $65 million in the past two years to aid political organizations in Ukraine, paying to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet U.S. leaders and helping to underwrite exit polls indicating he won last month's disputed runoff election.

U.S. officials say the activities don't amount to interference in Ukraine's election, as Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) alleges, but are part of the $1 billion the State Department spends each year trying to build democracy worldwide. No U.S. money was sent directly to Ukrainian political parties, the officials say.

In most cases, it was funneled through organizations like the Carnegie Foundation or through groups aligned with Republicans and Democrats that organized election training, with human rights forums or with independent news outlets.

But officials acknowledge some of the money helped train groups and individuals opposed to the Russian-backed government candidate — people who now call themselves part of the Orange revolution. For example, one group that got grants through U.S.-funded foundations is the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, whose Web site has a link to Yushchenko's home page under the heading "partners."

Another project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development brought a Center for Political and Legal Reforms official to Washington last year for a three-week training session on political advocacy. "There's this myth that the Americans go into a country and, presto, you get a revolution," said Lorne Craner, a former State Department official who heads the International Republican Institute, which received $25.9 million last year to encourage democracy in Ukraine and more than 50 other countries.

"It's not the case that Americans can get 2 million people to turn out on the streets. The people themselves decide to do that," Craner said.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, "There's accountability in place. We make sure that money is being used for the purposes for which it's assigned or designated." Since the Ukrainian Supreme Court invalidated the results of the Nov. 21 presidential runoff, Russia and the United States have traded charges of interference.

A new election is scheduled for Dec. 26. Opposition leaders, international monitors and Bush's election envoy to Ukraine have said major fraud marred the runoff between Yushchenko and current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was declared the winner.

Yushchenko is friendlier toward Europe and the United States than his opponent, who has Putin's support as well as backing from the current Ukrainian government of President Leonid Kuchma. Putin lauded Yanukovych during state visits to Ukraine within a week of both the Oct. 31 election and the Nov. 21 runoff.

Yushchenko's backers say Russian support for Yanukovych goes beyond Putin's praise and includes millions of dollars in campaign funding and other assistance. Putin has said Russia has acted "absolutely correctly" with regard to Ukraine.

Documents and interviews provide a glimpse into how U.S. money was spent inside Ukraine. "Our money doesn't go to candidates; it goes to the process, the institutions that it takes to run a free and fair election," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The exit poll, funded by the embassies of the United States and seven other nations as well as four international foundations, said Yushchenko won the Nov. 21 vote by 54 percent to 43 percent. Yanukovych and his supporters say the exit poll was skewed.

The Ukrainian groups that did the poll of more than 28,000 voters have not said how much the project cost.

Neither has the U.S.

The four foundations involved included three funded by the U.S. government: The National Endowment for Democracy, which gets its money directly from Congress; the Eurasia Foundation, which gets money from the State Department, and the Renaissance Foundation, part of a network of charities funded by billionaire George Soros that gets money from the State Department. Other countries involved included Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Grants from groups funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development also went to the International Center for Policy Studies, a think tank that includes Yushchenko on its supervisory board. The board also includes several current or former advisers to Kuchma, however. IRI, Craner's Republican-backed group, used U.S. money to help Yushchenko arrange meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites), Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage and GOP leaders in Congress in February 2003.

The State Department gave the National Democratic Institute, a group of Democratic foreign policy experts, nearly $48 million for worldwide democracy-building programs in 2003. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (news - web sites) chairs NDI's board of directors. The NDI says representatives of parties in all the blocs that participated in Ukraine's 2002 parliamentary elections have attended its seminars to learn skills such as writing party platforms, organizing bases of voter support and developing party structures.

NDI also has been a main financial and administrative backer of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog group that said the presidential vote was not conducted fairly. NDI also organized a 35-member team of election observers headed by former federal appeals court Judge Abner Mikva for the Nov. 21 runoff vote. IRI sent its own team of observers.

The U.S. Agency for International Development also funds the Center for Ukrainian Reform Education, which produces radio and television programs aiming to educate Ukrainian citizens about reforming their nation's government and economy. The center also sponsors press clubs and education for journalists.