By: Sai Wansai
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
News coming out during the weekend that the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), whose five members have signed ceasefire agreements with President Thein Sein’s government, is going to review its stance unless the Burma army offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization/ Army (KIO/KIA) is suspended by 10 June 2012, which is the first anniversary of the armed conflict between the two parties, should be heartily welcomed.
According to SHAN report, on 10 May, “Out of the UNFC 11 members, 5 have concluded truce: Shan State Progress Party / Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), Chin National Front (CNF), Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and New Mon State Party (NMSP)”.
The ongoing Burma Army offensive sole purpose in northern Shan state and Kachin state is to protect the foreign business and as such, the UNFC has condemned the Burma Army’s for the meaningless killings and blood-letting of citizens of Burma.
According to the UNFC ad hoc meeting held on the Thai-Burmese border, 8-9 May, Joint Secretary Khun Okker said that although President Thein Sein has issued a directive, on 10 December 2011, to halt the offensives in all ethnic areas, Burma Army has encroached around KIO headquarters Laiza, with at least 2,000 troops, four long range artilleries and six helicopters, readying for attack.
Starting from Burma Army offensive of 11 June 2011 to 8 May 2012 on KIA positions, there have been at least 1,300 armed clashes.
The UNFC, according Naing Han Tha of NMSP, welcomed the newly restructured government’s negotiating team headed by President Thein Sein himself, but cautioned that unless the present policy is changed, there could be no success or progress.
He also said that the President’s urging of the armed ethnic groups to participate and change the system from within the parliament cannot be accepted for it is not leading to political settlement through direct, face-to-face, negotiation.
While the European Union suspended its sanctions last month, the US has kept many sanctions in place.
The UNFC said that the international community should withhold the remaining political, military, financial and economic sanctions, until the military offensives in Kachin and Shan states are suspended by June 10, 2012.
Meanwhile, SHAN reported, on 14 May, 3 more clashes had already taken place, between the Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) – not a member of the UNFC – and Burma army, prior to the next round of peace talk to be held soon with the Thein Sein regime.
According to RCSS/SSA, altogether 17 clashes have taken place between the two sides since the ceasefire agreement was signed on 2 December 2011.
On 1 May, SHAN reported that the SSPP/SSA, sister organization, RCSS/SSA, said it had been attacked at least 14 times since the ceasefire agreement was signed on 2 December 2011.
Thus, it is quite clear that the President’s directive to halt the offensive in ethnic areas has not been heeded, for whatever reason.
Some informed sources have speculated that the regime is using the tactics of “good-cop-bad-cop” to continue its military supremacy policy, while others think the power struggle between the hardliners and reformists are really spilling out into daily political development. The recent resignation of Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, and dropping of USDP leader, U Aung Thaung, from the peace negotiation team in the new set up, was seen as indicators of the brewing ongoing struggle between the two camps. Both Tin Aung Myint Oo and U Aung Thaung are known as anti-reform, hardliners.
At the same time, some former exiled opposition groups, turned regime sympathizers, were heaping blame on the KIO/KIA leadership for its rigid stance of “political dialogue first”, instead of Thein Sein’s three stage peace roadmap of “ceasefire, development and political dialogue”.
The KIO/KIA on its part has had bitter experiences of 17 years ceasefire without political dialogue, which ended when the Burmese military forced it to become Border Guard Force (BFG) under the Burma army. And it is understandable that it refuses to budge and accept Thein Sein’s three stage peace roadmap, for after the long drawn out developmental phase, it is bound to revert back to armed confrontation, without having political settlement - in form of genuine federalism - along the line of originally accepted 1948 Panglong Agreement, prior to the formation of the “Union of Burma”.
It is also true that, at least, a temporary truce is needed to go forward. And to do this the Burma army needs to halt its offensive and withdraw troops to an agreeable distance, so that the ceasefire could be maintained. This has also been the first priority demanded by the Kachin all along to kick-start the peace process.
The UNFC demand has been a collective political dialogue between the non-Burman ethnic groups, USDP dominated government and Burman opposition parties, in form of National Convention, leading to “National Accord”, outside the parliament. The real reason behind this seems to be that the UNFC doesn’t accept that the 2008 Constitution represents the non-Burman ethnic groups, but rather just the military clique. Consequently, the government stemming from such constitution could not also represent all the peoples or nationalities of Burma.
For the time being, it is absolutely reasonable to take measured response, depending on the military and political moves of the regime on the ground. And the position taken on reviewing of ceasefire agreement, on the part of UNFC, if the Burma army refuses to halt its offensive by 10 June, in Shan and Kachin states, is an appropriate move, to pressure the regime and its army for substantial political dialogue.
The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor