Burma’s Minority Leaders Meet Japanese Govt

By Saw Yan Naing 9 April 2013

An alliance of armed ethnic minority groups from Burma has met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss humanitarian assistance in ethnic regions of their country.

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of 11 ethnic groups, sent 23 representatives to the meeting in Tokyo last week after receiving an invitation from the Nippon Foundation, a major Japanese philanthropist organization that recently pledged US $3 million in emergency aid to Burma for one year.

The ethnic leaders from Karen, Kachin, Karenni, Shan, Mon, Chin and Arakan states also met with Japan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister during the talks on April 1.

“They [the Nippon Foundation] put us in touch with the Japanese government so we could propose to the government what kind of assistance we really need,” UNFC joint-secretary Khun Okkar told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

“They [the Japanese ministers] said ethnic minorities play a major role in Burma’s future. They also urged us to continue moving forward with the peace process until we succeed.”

After fighting decades-long civil wars against Burma’s government, most of the country’s major ethnic armed groups have signed ceasefires since reformist President Thein Sein came to power in 2011, but clashes continue in many of the underdeveloped regions and war is ongoing in Kachin State.

At the meeting in Japan, Khun Okkar said ethnic representatives discussed ways of putting the Nippon Foundation’s emergency aid to use in ethnic states.

He said the group discussed using the funds for a long-term assistance project to promote health care, education and socially sustainable development.

Local authorities, the UNFC and the government-linked Myanmar Peace Center are expected to cooperate in the project, which will be implemented over three to five years.

Although a budget has not been confirmed, the funds will be given to concerned donors and respective authorities in each ethnic region to promote development initiatives such as the construction of schools and clinics, Khun Okkar said.

“Those who want to promote projects such as building schools or organizing training sessions can contact respective ethnic leaders in the regions,” he said.

Community-based ethnic leaders can send project proposals to the UNFC, which will communicate with the Japanese government through the Nippon Foundation, he added.

The Nippon Foundation plans to continue assisting the ongoing peace process between the government’s peace delegation and armed ethnic minority groups by serving as an observer during negotiations.

The foundation is also delivering rice and medicine to ethnic regions as part of its $3 million aid package to promote peace in the country.

The Japanese government recently granted more than $12 million to Burma through deals between the Myanmar Peace Center and Japanese NGOs, including Japan Platform, an aid organization that helps refugees after humanitarian disasters.