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New President, Thein Sein in a speech to the new Central Committee for Border Areas and National Races said that development was needed as the “union could break into pieces”, according to the government mouth piece the New Light of Myanmar, and to help; “convince the people from the border areas of the government’s goodwill efforts for peace and stability and development.”
Thein Sein as President will be the chairperson of the new committee, whilst vice Presidents, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Dr Sai Mauk Kham attended the meeting in the President’s office and will be joint deputy chairpersons of the committee.
The address was given on Saturday at what was the committee’s first meeting held in Naypyidaw with the President blaming “localism and racism” for causing “internal insurgencies”.
Whilst; “only if development tasks are carried out to improve the transport, economy, health and education standards of those regions, will national re-consolidation and Union spirit be forged”.
Amongst the development initiatives the President highlighted health as; “it is needed to develop health sector in addition to uplift of education standard and to launch health educative programmes at greater length due to poor health knowledge.”
Utterances on improving health services will likely be taken with extreme scepticism given a recent budget which maintained Burma’s low health spending, with just 1.3% of the government’s budget going into the sector, compared with regional averages of around 10%.
The evident fear that Sein’s address alludes to is ethnic areas and indeed peoples gravitating towards Burma’s neighbours, chiefly Thailand and China; the “Union could break into pieces” unless people start; “ignoring the spirit of relying on the other country and cultivating the spirit of cherishing their own country and regions”, according to the New Light.
The majority of ethnic populations reside on the country’s borders and the dire state of the Burmese economy not to mention long running struggles for greater autonomy have encouraged considerable ties being forged, economically and politically, with neighbouring countries. Both the Shan and the Karen have long held links to Thailand, with the Shan State Army South having alleged connections to Thailand’s secret services.
Whilst further north in the Kachin and Wa areas trade with booming China is growing and often seen as more reliable and profitable than with lower Burma.
Burma’s war torn eastern regions are highlighted as being on par with some of the poorest regions on the planet in terms of health. With eastern Burma’s infant mortality rate worse than Sudan’s the President called for “field trips to border areas” because there; “remain[s] a number of difficulties in some border areas till now for some do not realize government’s goodwill and aims,” according to the New Light.
Despite the positive notes tension remains in non-ceasefire areas where it has been reported that the government has upped the pressure on groups who have rejected the government’s border guard force plans which seeks to assimilate the ethnic rebel groups into the Burmese army.