Japanese Foundation Gives $70,000 in Aid to Mon Refugees

By Lawi Weng 25 December 2012

The Nippon Foundation of Japan has given US $70,000 in humanitarian aid to Mon State, the first batch of an expected $3 million in aid to reach ethnic refugees in Burma.

The foundation, a nonprofit grant-making organization, donated more than 50 tons of rice, hospital medical supplies and 500 boxes of traditional medicine, with a total value of $70,000, during an official ceremony in the state capital Moulmein on Saturday.

The ceremony was attended by Aung Min, a minister from the President’s Office and the government’s main peace negotiator, along with Burmese officials and leaders from the New Mon State Party.

The Nippon Foundation will provide more aid monthly to Mon State, in southeastern Burma, where more than 4,000 ethnic refugees have been displaced by armed conflicts between ethnic rebels and the government.

“This aid will help promote the peace process in Mon State, and Japan will continue to support the peace process in Burma,” said the Nippon Foundation’s chairman, Yohei Sasakawa, who is also Japan’s goodwill ambassador for the welfare of national races in Burma.

Yohei Sasakawa, who met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi before deciding to provide humanitarian aid to ethnic refugees, acknowledged positive reforms in Burma under President Thein Sein’s government, which has negotiated ceasefires with 10 ethnic armed groups.

The Nippon Foundation has pledged to donate a total of $3 million to different ethnic groups, according to a statement.

“It is unprecedented that such a large aid package is to be given to the armed forces of a minority group, and an extraordinary move for the government, which has given the go ahead for this,” the foundation said in the statement.

The aid will be distributed under the framework of an agreement between the government and a collection of 11 ethnic groups known as the United Nationalities Federal Council.

Minister Aung Min said more refugees in neighboring countries would return to Burma and resettle following the ceasefire deals.

Decades of conflict in Burma’s ethnic states have resulted in about 440,000 refugees.

Aung Min said about 300,000 refugees could come back to Burma to rebuild their lives and would require aid from the international community.

Burma’s government may require $300 million for this purpose, Aung Min said, adding that the Nippon Foundation planned to provide a total of $60 million in the future.

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) agreed to a ceasefire with the government’s Burma Army on Feb. 1 but has called for greater political dialogue since then.

The government says it urged political talks in December, but party leaders say they were never informed when to schedule a meeting.

“We regret that there hasn’t been a nationwide ceasefire yet, and that there has been no clear instructions about when to have a political dialogue with the Burmese government,” said NMSP chairman Nai Htaw Mon.

“Our Mon refugees are living in poor conditions. This aid might not be enough to help everyone, but it will help a lot of people,” the chairman added, expressing thanks to the Japanese foundation. “I’m sure this aid will help a lot with the peace process.”

More than 1,000 ethnic Mon attended the Nippon Foundation’s ceremony at city hall in Moulmein.

While visiting the state, Yohei Sasakawa noted the poor conditions in refugee camps.

“They didn’t have adequate sanitation or enough toilets, while their homes were cramped,” the ambassador said.

NMSP leaders called for a conference with all ethnic armed groups, democratic forces and the government, but said no date had been set.

Aung Min said he had not scheduled a conference, though he suggested the peace effort was working in some places.

Pointing to a group of ethnic Mon performing a traditional dance, the minister said: “This is how successful the peace process has been.”

“Only in Kachin [State] have we yet to see peace,” he added.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced in Burma’s northernmost Kachin State since a 17-year ceasefire broke down between the government and ethnic rebels there in June last year.