By: Sai Wansai
Friday, 04 May 2012
Now that Aung San Suu Kyi and National League for Democracy (NLD) have yielded to the pressure of the NLD voters, including other opposition and ethnic parties within the parliament, and have taken oath and entered the fray on Wednesday, the stage for further political reconciliation, bargaining and adjustment would likely proceed, as envisioned by all stakeholders.
Suu Kyi has held her ground that the 2008 Constitution remains the military drafted one, which does not represent the majority’s political aspiration. And as such, she is determined to amend it according to NLD’s election campaign promise and make it more democratic.
The row on taking oath is to drive home the point that she and the NLD are not keen to “protect and uphold” the military drafted constitution, for they don’t see eye to eye with it and can’t possibly follow the oath literally. In other words, they are not willing to die defending the military supremacy constitution, which they neither have part nor agree with it, but involving in the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) or military game plan for the sole purpose of amending it to be in line with democratic principles. In any case, the message of uneasiness to go along with the oath taking, without the change of wording, is being heard loud and clear, domestically and internationally.
Seen from this perspective, Suu Kyi has been able to highlight the undemocratic aspect of the constitution and her party’s desire for genuine change, even though the boycott lasted for just two weeks or so.
Nevertheless, it is fair to say that NLD’s oath taking has given hope that, at least, partial democratic process, with an added vocal opposition party entering the political arena would lend increased legitimacy for the regime and become the order of the day.
While this episode has create hope that the better change for the country could now be realised, the ongoing war in Kachin and Shan states blurs the optimistic view and create a dim picture of doubtfulness to achieve real reconciliation, within the mould of “unity in diversity”.
According to Irrawaddy’s report on 25 April, the IDP population is about one and half million and there are around 150,000 refugees along the Thai-Burmese border. Kachin News Group (KNG), in its recent report estimates the displaced population for around 70,000 in Kachin state, due to the armed conflict that has started for about a year ago. Refugee International, in its “Current Humanitarian Situation” report writes that there are 800,000 displaced Muslims in western Burma and approximately 3 million refugees from Burma forced to flee Burma to neighbouring countries.
While there are no comprehensive figures of the number of people internally displaced due to armed conflict or human rights violations in Burma, it is evident that the scale of humanitarian crisis is alarming and worrisome, to put it mildly.
All these actually boil down to the failed political strategy and twisted vision of the successive military regimes, which have embarked on racial supremacy policy to coercively integrate, assimilate or Burmanized all the non-Burman ethnic groups.
And to implement the said policy, institutionalised assimilation measures like cultural genocide and the military’s “Four-Cuts” strategy were used to counter the ethnic resistance forces, leading to gross human rights abuses and humanitarian crises, which the world is witnessing today.
The “Four-Cuts” strategy developed in the 1970s is designed to cut off access to food, funds, information and recruitment, often with devastating consequences. The strategy, which is also known as sweeping the area or “No Man's Land” policy, was to execute anyone, including children, who were found in areas of military operations.
Tragically, implementation of the failed policy of ethnic subjugation is still in place, as the ongoing armed conflict continues to rage on in Kachin and Shan states, under the regime of President Thein Sein.
While it is clearly an achievement that Naypyitaw has signed ceasefire agreements with 12 ethnic armed groups, pending meaningful political dialogue and settlement, the fragile truce could break down, if the Burmese military in the field refuses to follow the President’s directive to halt the offensive and maintain truce.
Shan report on 01 May writes: “Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), said it had been attacked at least 14 times since the ceasefire agreement was signed on 2 December 2011, but the Shan State Progress Party / Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) disclosed that it had been forced to fight 13 clashes with the Burma Army since 28 January this year when it signed the ceasefire agreement”.
Again, according to SHAN report on 02 May, a Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) high official who asked not to be named reasoned that the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) is both constitutionally and actually “above the government”. To prove his point he said that Kachin State Minister for Border and Security Affairs Col Than Aung reports directly to the Northern Region Command and not to the Kachin State chief minister; and Naypyitaw chief negotiator U Aung Thaung was quoted as saying the Tatmadaw’s commander-in-chief is above the defence minister in order of precedence.
“He even conceded that the NDSC (National Defence and Security Council) is higher than the union government,” the official said.
Last, but not least, the Tatmadaw took an independent decision to attack the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
“For these reasons, for a negotiation to succeed, participation of Tatmadaw representatives empowered to make decisions is a must,” he said.
And so it seems that to achieve result Naypyitaw is changing its stance by involving the military in a newly restructured peace-negotiating team.
According to Reuter’s report of 30 April, President Thein Sein appointed a new negotiating team as negotiator Aung Thaung failed to reach a ceasefire agreement with the KIO. The Rail Transportation Minister Aung Min, who is also one of the chief negotiators of the regime, announced that a new 50-member team led by Vice-President Mauk Kham would now be in charge of talks with the KIO. Accordingly, the new team will comprise many members including senior army officers, parliamentary lawmakers and state chief ministers and will be led by a vice president.
But one of the Kachin rebel officials, according to AFP report, on 03 May, claimed that the move was merely a "game" for the sake of "showing an ethnic face" in the government side.
Meanwhile, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an umbrella organisation comprised of 11 armed ethnic groups that was created to negotiate with the government at union-level meetings, arrived in Japan on 25 April at the invitation of the Japanese government to discuss about the on-going peace process and humanitarian aid in ethnic conflict zones.
UNFC Vice President and Karen National Union’s Vice-Chairman Saw David Thackapaw reportedly urged the Japanese government to help realised the non-Burman ethnic groups’ aspiration of genuine federalism, for democratisation alone won’t be able to deliver a lasting peace.
On 26 April, AFP reported that the US ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions on Burma, saying it wanted to preserve leverage to push the regime on ending ethnic violence and other key issues.
Kurt Campbell, a key architect of the US outreach to Burma, who is the assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, told lawmakers that there is no intention to lift sanctions.
“We recognise very clearly that there have to be provisions and capabilities to be able to respond if there is a reversal or a stalling out (of reforms), that leverage is an essential component of our strategy,” he said.
Campbell pointed out that Naypyitaw’s reforms have mostly impacted urban and Burman-majority areas and have not benefited ethnic nationalities’ areas, which have been marred by long-running armed ethnic conflicts.
“We need to ensure that that process extends into the country as a whole and we are troubled by very clear – and we believe reliable – reports of continuing attacks and atrocities that are completely antithetical to the overall effort that we’re seeking to achieve,” he said.
The EU and Canada have suspended most sanctions and Japan waived Burma’s debt as rewards after a dramatic year of reforms in which President Thein Sein freed political prisoners and reached out to opponents.
And so the last crucial stumbling block for the lifting of financial sanctions, which will enable the regime to tap into international financial institutions, is the inability to resolve the ongoing ethnic conflicts. Naypyitaw cannot go on with its “Two Burmas” policy of measured liberalisation in Burma Proper and waging suppression wars in non-Burman ethnic areas forever.
President Thein Sein has shown willingness and courage, by making a bold peace initiative to end the conflict, that he could go beyond the acquired military mindset of racial supremacy doctrine. It is also time for the military top brass to follow suit.
Hopefully, President Thein Sein’s latest restructuring of peace-negotiating team, with the participation of the military, will be able to deliver more, unlike the previous set up, so that all could proceed with the task of reconciliation, democratisation and development.
The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor