The Nippon Foundation of Japan has implemented a US$3 million humanitarian aid project in Myanmar, aimed at providing relief for refugees living in areas controlled by armed ethnic groups.
The program will be run under the framework of an agreement between the Myanmar government and a grouping of ethnic organisations called the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).
The Chiang Mai-based council, established in November 2010, has 11 members, including the NMSP, Kachin Independence Organisation and Karen National Union
The project was launched at a ceremony held in the Mon State capital of Mawlamyine on December 22, during which representatives from the foundation gave $70,000 worth of emergency supplies to the New Mon State Party (NMSP).
The supplies included 50 tonnes of rice, medical supplies for hospitals and 500 boxes of traditional medicine.
The ceremony was attended by Minister U Aung Min from the President’s Office, who heads the government’s peace negotiation team; NMSP chairman U Nai Htaw Mon; Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa; and other officials.
“It is unprecedented that such a large aid package is to be given to the armed force of a minority group, and an extraordinary move for the government, which has given the go-ahead for this,” said a statement released by the foundation.
U Aung Min said at the ceremony that the launch of the project marks the first time that international aid has been accepted for ethnic refugees within Myanmar.
He said that forging genuine peace would allow nearly three million people to “come back to Myanmar”, including 100,000 soldiers serving in armed ethnic groups, 446,000 internally displaced persons, 350,000 people living in refugee camps on the borders with neighbouring countries, and two million migrant workers in Thailand.
U Aung Min said the Myanmar government does not have the funds to implement rehabilitation processes for all the people in need, so efforts are being made to meet these needs by soliciting international assistance from nonprofit organisations.
“Some international organisations have pledged their support, but until now we have not received anything,” he said.
“Now the Nippon Foundation has pledged $3 million in support, and we will distribute these emergency supplies to refugees step by step. Next we will provide support in Kayin State, perhaps in January.”
U Aung Min said that the Japanese government eventually plans to provide another $300 million in support for refugee relief programs, $60 million of which will come from the Nippon Foundation.
Mr Sasakawa said at the ceremony in Mawlamyine that it is the duty of Japan and other countries to support the development of Myanmar, and that the aim of the foundation was not only to support refugees but also to help build trust between ethnic groups and the government in a way that would lead to lasting peace.
“The Myanmar government has not officially accepted the UNFC, so we acted as a bridge by negotiating between the two groups. We would like to see peace and development in Myanmar,” he said.
U Nai Htaw Mon said he was “pleased to accept the aid” and thanked the Nippon Foundation for helping the NMSP “practically and without discrimination”, although he added that the donation was not enough to help all refugees.
He also urged all relevant players in the peace process to hold a political dialogue conference similar to the one held in Panglong, Shan State, in 1947 that created a blueprint for the administration of ethnic areas in Myanmar.
“Then we can build a federal union that can lead to genuine peace and national solidarity throughout the nation, and even provide clear instructions for the peace process,” he said.
“We also want to get genuine peace. We hold weapons and fight while we are also calling to get our rights and self-determination.”
The NMSP was founded in 1962 as an opposition group to the military government. The organisation signed a ceasefire agreement with the new government on February 12, 2012.