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The National League for Democracy (NLD) donated more than 12.8 million Kyat [US$ 14,909] to migrant schools on the Thai-Burma border with money it raised during a controversial fundraiser, where cronies contributed an estimated US$ 250,000.
The donation ceremony in Mywaddy coincided with the second anniversary of the founding of the NLD’s Education Network.
However, a spat of media reports earlier in the month have drawn attention to the source of the funding.
According to a report in Reuters on 17 January, the National League for Democracy “accepted 211.5 million kyat ($250,000) at a fundraising concert from companies owned by western-blacklisted businessmen who made fortunes under the military dictatorship”.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended receiving funds from the cronies during the December fundraiser since the money would be used for “good things”.
“If the cronies support the NLD and other charity works, then let them support. Instead of using their money for something wasteful, they are using it to support those in need – it is a very nice thing.” Suu Kyi told reporters in Naypyidaw on 9 January.
Crony-owned businesses that participated in the fundraiser included a bank owned by Tay Za – a notorious businessman and alleged arms dealer who forged close ties with former junta leader Than Shwe.
Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for nearly 20 years during Senior General’s Than Shwe’s iron-fisted rule over the country.
“Let me ask those who are criticising; the kids need a chance to study at this age and if we don’t accept money from the cronies, will you give us the money instead? Or should we just neglect the kids,” said NLD spokesperson and MP Ohn Kyaing during an interview with RFA published on 18 January.
On Sunday, donations were handed out to teachers and administrators who worked at schools attended by the children of Burmese migrants living near the border.
“We hope that our donations here will bring more media attention to the Burmese migrants and eventually bring international donors, and a great deal of assistance to the migrant children,” said NLD representative Phyo Min Thein.
Naing Naing Htun, general secretary of the Burmese Migrant Teachers Association, said a ceremony was held at Myawaddy Hotel in Karen state’s Myawaddy border town on Sunday morning to mark the occasion.
“The donation includes 200,000 Kyat each for 49 teachers who don’t get paid and 1m Kyat each to the Headmaster U Khine Ohn Maung’s school and the Yaungnioo School, [which was] founded by ABSDF [All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front] members,” said Naing Naing Htun.
One of the four guidelines set by the NLD Education Network is to provide assistance to students and schools in the border regions. The network has already allocated 50 million Kyat in funds to schools in border areas, including in Kachin and Arakan states.
There are more than 80 migrant schools alone in Thailand’s Tak Province, which is home to a large Burmese migrant population.
-Shwe Aung contributed reporting.