Monday, May 20, 2024

Day Three, Sunday, 26 July 2015

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Today, I’m at the Uniserv, where the conference takes place, before 08: 00, because the first panel is going to begin at that time and one of the speakers is a young Kokang student, Myint Myint Kyu, whom I have known for three years.


Her topic is “The Gambling Industry in Kokang.” According to her, it is one of the main activities utilized by the local authorities  to solve the problems caused by the opium ban in 2002. “The industry has brought  many profits to the region in terms of infrastructure, economy, and livelihoods for local people,” she says.

But the fact, as she readily admits, is that it comes with a price. “In Kokang, gambling is very normal. If you do not gamble, you will be seen as an abnormal,” she quotes a Mr Zhao as saying.
To me, there is only one question for her: What happened to the casinos after 9 February, when the Kokang conflict restarted. Having ended her research there in September 2014, 4 months ahead of the war, she isn’t quite sure about the situation there.

Next comes the panel on land confiscation. My earlier plan was to move to another room to attend the media panel. But as the speakers here include young activists whom I admire much: Paul Sein Twa, Khun Oo and Nang La, I decide to stay. And I’m not disappointed.

What Khun Oo tells us about the Tijit coal mines near Taunggyi reminds me of the Mae Moh coal mine crisis in Lampang which had displaced more than 30,000 people and had been the cause of severe respiratory problems and crop damages for years. Another Mae Moh in the making, I tell myself.

What Nang La tells us about the gold mining in Tachilek is no less heart-rending especially when she herself is one of the victims.
To Paul, the whole blame must be pointed to the army, particularly its GAD (General Administrative Department) which though structurally under the home ministry, permeates every bureaucratic component in existence, like a spider’s web.  “It is the brain and the intelligence of the army,” he says.

What he doesn’t say can be inferred from what he does. The prey of the spider is of course the people. While listening to each and everyone, one thought, unthought, occurs to me, who’s an unabashed reader of the American westerns, where the main features are cowboys, land and resources. “Who holds the resources holds the ranges,” is the common dictum.

Maybe someday in the near future, the people will be given back their country:  What those in the lowland calls “democracy” and those in the highlands “right of self determination.” But without also giving back their land and resources, it may mean nothing.

The struggle therefore will not end with the signing of the Union Peace Accord somewhere in the near (or far) future. I hope I’ll be still around by then.

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