Japanese foundation to send aid to Burma

Burmese refugees from Bhamo city at a rescue camp in the Chinese southwestern border city of Ruili, Yunnan province, February 9, 2012

A Japanese philanthropic organization says it is sending $3 million in aid to ethnic groups in Burma, some of which are still engaged in armed conflict with the Burmese government.

The Nippon Foundation made the announcement Thursday in Tokyo after meeting with representatives from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of Burmese ethnic groups who are seeking peace talks with the government. Foundation officials say the first shipments of food and medicine will be sent in the coming months.

Khun Myint Htun with the Pa-O Nationalities Liberation Group was at the meeting as part of the UNFC and says the deal will make an immediate impact.

“The aid provided is primarily urgent humanitarian aid to be given as soon as possible,” said Pa-Oh Nationalities Liberation Group spokesman Khun Myint Htun. “The first phase of the Nippon Foundation Aid is $3 million.”

The Burmese government does not recognize the UNFC but the Nippon Foundation says the aid deal has the support of Burma’s leadership.

Officials in Tokyo say the Burmese government sees the aid as a way of speeding up the peace process as it negotiates with the individual groups.

The UNFC includes the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Organization.

Fighting between the Burmese army and Kachin rebels broke out last year near some China-backed hydropower and oil-pipeline projects.

The exile Kachin News Group reports fighting has intensified since August near Hpakant, where the world’s best quality jadeite is mined.

But the UNFC representatives, including Khun Myint Htun, say the aid will not help fund further fighting.

“The aid given by Nippon Foundation to the ethnic minorities is not in the form of cash donation but in the form of rice and medicine which are urgently in need,” added Khun Myint Htun. “In providing rice and medicine, the process will be administered by the Foundation itself. The priority is to deliver the aid to those in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. For example, among the members of our UNFC (The United Nationalities Federal Council), the KIO (Kachin Independence Organization) is the worst conflict hit area. The people in that area will get the aid first. Then the IDPs (internally displaced people) from our UNFC ethnic minorities will also get aid in the form of quota system. Aid will be given to the Kachin area as priority.”

Some Burma activists have criticized other, similar efforts saying so-called “peace funds” undermine peace by prioritizing development instead of lasting political solutions.

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