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Cablegate: An Overview of Burma-Related Civil Society Training Programs

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RR RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHCHI #0129/01 1990155
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 180155Z JUL 07
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0524
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0049
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0056
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0573
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0007
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0026
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0015
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK NY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 CHIANG MAI 000129

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM ECPS OEXC TH BM
SUBJECT: AN OVERVIEW OF BURMA-RELATED CIVIL SOCIETY TRAINING PROGRAMS
IN CHIANG MAI

REF: CHIANG MAI 32

CHIANG MAI 00000129 001.2 OF 003


1. SUMMARY. Exile political and social activists from Burma are
using Chiang Mai as a base for the training and development of a
new generation of leaders. Like their counterparts in the media
(reftel), political exiles have found Chiang Mai to be a
convenient and relatively safe harbor from which to engage in
activities restricted by Burma's ruling junta. With help from
foreign government funding and implicit RTG permission to
operate on Thai soil, organizations here have created a shadow
educational and professional development system for hundreds of
young activists. End Summary.

2. Leadership training NGOs that have established roots in
Chiang Mai in recent years include the Foreign Affairs Training
program for political activists, the Community Development and
Civic Empower program for social development workers, and the
School for Shan State Nationalities Youth for younger leaders
from underserved communities. Like other civil society training
groups in the city, these organizations cite Chiang Mai's
proximity to Burma, low cost of living, and good connectivity
with the outside world as top draws. Western governments and
foundations provide most funding, while Thai officials
sympathetic to these programs' causes are willing to host their
schools in Thailand -- although security concerns usually prompt
the organizations to operate out of unmarked compounds on the
edge of town.

3. Security issues mean most students keep a low profile as well
and say they rarely interact with their Thai neighbors. Some
tell of slipping across the border in the middle of the night or
trekking through the Burmese jungle for several days in order to
reach Chiang Mai in time for their program's start date. When
they arrive, they find themselves in a microcosm of the Burma
that could have been - a dynamic mix of ethnicities living and
working together toward shared goals. Here in the classroom and
on the compounds, English and Burmese are more likely to unite
the students than their own native languages and dialects, and
many students admit to forming their first positive impressions
of other ethnic groups via their experience in Chiang Mai.

4. ConGen Chiang Mai has supported these groups through book
donations, speaking at class graduations, and inviting students
to the consulate for discussions on U.S. foreign policy,. At the
same time, students and staff have become valuable sources for
information on Burma and border security issues. Most USG
Burma-related funding in Thailand concentrates on health issues
or on activities along the border, but even programs not
receiving U.S. grants are overwhelmingly pro-American.
Instructors draw inspiration from U.S. models on everything from
political development to educational testing.

5. The following three organizations represent the variety of
programs -- political activism, community development, and
professional skills - present in Chiang Mai. The programs are
different in scope and mission, but all produce similar results:
students gain skills and inspiration to pursue careers that
likely would be denied to them in Burma.

Political Exiles Get Crash Course on International Human Rights
Advocacy

6. The FOREIGN AFFAIRS TRAINING (FAT) program is sponsored by
the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), a
multi-ethnic, Thailand-based political exile group that supports
democracy building and reconciliation efforts in Burma. The
program, now on its fifth class, receives money primarily
through an NCUB grant via the Dutch government. Other EU
governments assist with logistical support. FAT brings together
up to two dozen young leaders from Burma-focused NGOs for
training sessions on international relations, history, English,
and professional skills. For nine months, the students, most
aged 21-25, receive a crash course in the liberal arts with a
focus on Burma affairs and using their knowledge for public
advocacy. Each FAT class draws from a variety of Burmese groups,
both inside and outside of Burma. The current class represents
several ethnicities, including Burman, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and
Kachin.

7. Following formal studies at a Chiang Mai compound, FAT
graduates serve in one-year internships at human rights NGOs
around the world. Previous students have worked in the United

CHIANG MAI 00000129 002.2 OF 003


Kingdom, Czech Republic, Poland, and South Africa. They return
to their original sponsoring NGOs, such as the Karen Women's
Organization or Ethnic Nationalities Council, with the aim of
taking on more leadership responsibilities. FAT graduates have
briefed visiting USG officials, spoken at international peace
building conferences, and placed op-eds in regional media. One,
a Thai citizen, received an International Visitor program grant
to study NGOs and civil society in the United States.

Community Leaders Learn Development Skills to Bring Back Home

8. The COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND CIVIC EMPOWERMENT (CDCE)
program also organized by the NCUB, focuses on building
grassroots organizing skills to help support social services
lacking in many Burmese communities. CDCE's three-month program
includes specialized skill training for social services, such as
grant writing, budgeting, and participatory development. The
program is now on its second class of 30 students and charges a
$2,500 tuition fee, which has allowed it to nearly cover its
operating costs (students usually receive grants from other
donor agencies to attend). The Dutch, Norwegian, and Swiss
governments provided funds for the initial start-up costs.

9. Organizers say they intentionally avoid political issues,
both to appease nervous administrators at Chiang Mai
University's Faculty of Social Sciences, which hosts the
program, and to protect graduates, who return to their villages
in Burma to take on high-profile roles. Although a few students
have been former political prisoners, most participants have
non-political backgrounds. Most are under age 40 and have had
prior experience in civic development. CMU officials have asked
that future sessions be expanded to include participants from
other underdeveloped areas, such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and
Yunnan Province, China.

Shan State Youth Get Exposure to the Outside World and Their
Neighbors

10. The School for Shan State Nationalities Youth (SSSNY), one
of more than 30 Chiang Mai NGOs receiving funds from the New
York-based Open Society Institute, provides capacity building
and educational opportunities for Shan State residents. The
school recruits students aged 18-22 from a variety of ethnic
groups living in Shan State, including Shan, Kachin, Palaung,
Lahu, and Pao. Like the NCUB's FAT, the Shan Women's Action
Network (SWAN) designed the program to train the next generation
of leaders who would otherwise be unlikely to find opportunities
for professional development and political advocacy inside
Burma, or in Thailand, where the RTG denies refugee services to
ethnic Shan. However, SSSNY recruits younger students primarily
from severely underdeveloped areas in Shan State. Unlike their
FAT counterparts, students here have little prior exposure to
higher education or NGO advocacy.

11. Instructors at the school - primarily American and Canadian
- teach English, computers, and history, but also offer advice
and guidance on professional development, such as Western styles
of dress and etiquette. Organizers say overcoming the lack of
quality secondary education and cultural barriers among the
multi-ethnic student body are significant challenges for the
students. One instructor noted during the most recent class's
opening ceremony that several students spoke three to four
languages fluently, but had tasted ice cream for the first time
the night before. SWAN leader Charm Tong, who founded SSSNY in
2001, said the program has graduated more than 190 students,
most of whom have returned to Shan State or the Thai-Burma
border area to work with NGOs as community health workers and
teachers.

COMMENT: A Great Start for Education, But Long-Term Staying
Power Unknown

12. As the current generation of exile leaders moves into
retirement or resettles in foreign countries, communities inside
Burma and along the Thai border are in serious need for capable
and well-trained staff to continue political struggles and
provide humanitarian aid. Burma's instability has pushed these
training programs into Thailand and created the shadow
educational system that now exists. Many former students have
already taken on larger responsibilities in political and civil
society organizations, but some fear that too much exposure to

CHIANG MAI 00000129 003.2 OF 003


the outside world pushes others into careers and personal lives
away from the troubles of Burma, a choice made easier the longer
they are separated from relatives and communities inside Burma.
While initial job placement rates are impressive, most programs
have only just begun to track alumni and analyze the impact of
their work.
CAMP

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