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Activists call for peace in Rangoon

Peace activists in Rangoon who planned to travel to Naypyidaw early this morning to call for an end to the country’s civil wars were prevented from leaving the city by authorities.

About 200 activists, including a large number of ethnic Kachins and members of civil society groups, gathered at Dagon Centre in Rangoon’s Sanchaung township at 4am this morning to head out for Naypyidaw when police arrived to stop the group.

The demonstrators had been planning to rally in front of the country’s Parliament and the Commander-in-Chief’s office.

According to the officials, the activists didn’t have permission to hold a rally in accordance with the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, which stipulates that a permit is needed to stage a demonstration.

Authorities turned down requests from the Kachin Peace Network and several other NGOs seeking requests to rally in support of the International Day of Peace in Naypyidaw on Friday.

Sporting blue headbands and holding up signs with “Stop Civil War”, the demonstrators then marched around several points in Rangoon and confronted authorities who attempted to disperse the crowd.

“On the occasion of the International Peace Day, I would like to say that we, the Parliamentary Representatives, also support this,” said the National League for Democracy’s Sanda Min, an MP representing Zabuthiri township in Naypyidaw.

“The [government] doesn’t want peace,” said one demonstrator. “If [Burma] is a real democratic country then the [government] should be providing security for people and allow them to express their will.”

The crowd then left to join a rally organised by Generation Wave and local NGOs. The organisers had planned to begin marching around 10am in the morning at Sule Pagoda and then head through eight townships across Rangoon.

“You know this is not officially permitted – I just want to remind you this,” said one unnamed police officer to the group of protestors as the moved through downtown Rangoon near city hall.

“I have nothing to say about you walking but we did officially tell you… you know that, right? I don’t want to say anything about anything else. You know this is officially restricted,” said the police officer.

However, several of the group’s leaders complained that authorities rejected their applications after they had presented the necessary documents required to secure a permit.

“We have been attempting to seek permission [for the rally] since last Thursday, but they repeatedly turned down our application citing various requirements,” said Generation Wave member Moe Thway, who helped organise the demonstration.

“We managed to get a hold of everything they asked for and [submitted the application again], but it was rejected on Monday by authorities in all eight townships.”

The rallies come as President Thein Sein prepares to travel to the US to attend the UN General Assembly next week. Aung Min, who has spearheaded several of the countries ceasefire deals this year, accompanied Aung Suu Kyi to Capitol Hill in Washington DC this week where the democracy icon was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

However, in the past week several groups have been vocal about Aung San Suu Kyi and the government’s silence surrounding the ongoing war in Kachin state and unrest in Arakan state.

In a statement released by the Karen National Union on Friday, the group called for a one-day ceasefire to mark the International Day of Peace and demanded that the government end military operations in Kachin state.

“We call on the administration of President Thein Sein and the Burma Army to immediately halt all military operations in Kachin State on the International Day of Peace which will be a step towards permanent ceasefire in the whole of Burma,” read the statement.

After a ceasefire broke down in June 2011, the Kachin Independence Army and Burmese troops have been involved in intense fighting that’s displaced an estimated 90,000 people in Kachin state.

Although the government signed a raft of ceasefire deals earlier in the year with armed ethnic groups across the country, Burmese troops continue to engage in brief skirmishes with the rebel armies, which observers say is a sign that the military isn’t always willing to live up to the agreements brokered by union politicians.

-Aung Soe Htike and Naw Noreen contributed reporting.

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