By: Sai Wansai
Thursday, 23 August 2012
In a recent interview with the VOA, President Thein Sein said that the problematic ceasefire issue with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is that it refused to issue ceasefire orders, the way he had done to the Burma Army. He said that it is relatively easy to reach a ceasefire arrangement, if KIA would follow suit and refrain from attacking, when the Burma Army personals were travelling on administrative purpose. He went on to say that it was hard for him to convince the troops from shooting back, if they were attacked.
It seems now the ball is in KIA’s court. But it is questionable if the Burma Army’s travelling around for administrative purpose within the conflict areas of Shan and Kachin States were just harmless exercises or it has to do with troop’s reinforcement, and stockpiling armament for the ongoing offensives against the KIA.
Meanwhile, The Mirror, regime’s mouthpiece reported on 21 August, the government’s chief peace negotiator, Aung Min, in reply to the MP Sai Thiha Kyaw, Representative of Merng Yai, Shan State, inquiry of why the fighting were still continuing even after the ceasefire agreements were signed between the Burma Army and various non-Burman ethnic armies, named two factors. One is the problem of establishing designated areas for the ceasefire armies and the others, opening Liaison offices, where both parties – the regime and ceasefire armies – could agree upon.
He said the continued armed clashes in Shan State stems from the inability to demarcate troops placement clearly for the Burma Army and the ethnic armies. Failure to open Liaison offices also contribute to the misunderstanding.
The latest SHAN report said that despite the ceasefire agreements, government troops have been attacking RCSS/SSA in more than 30 engagements and at least in 23 engagements with SSPP/SSA.
The KIA, which still has not signed ceasefire agreement, has fought more than 1600 times with the government troops, since the resuming of armed conflict for over a year. The causality figure, both death and wounded, was said to be in thousands from the government side, according to KIA.
The Irrawaddy report on 16 August said, sources from Naypyitaw that Railways Minister Aung Min, the government’s chief negotiator, proposed accelerating the peace process. To which Gen Soe Win, the deputy commander-in-chief and President Thein Sein’s peace committee, joined other military officials in objecting Aung Min’s proposal by citing the hefty casualties suffered while fighting the KIA.
La Nan, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), said that Burmese government troops keep arriving by land and boats along the Irrawaddy River with an estimated 30,000 soldiers from battalions under Light Infantry Divisions 44, 77, 88 and 99 currently on the ground.
Similarly, SHAN reported on 20 August that since July 21, when Maj Gen Aung Kyaw Zaw, Commander of Lashio-based Northeastern Region Command issued an ultimatum to Shan State Progress Party / Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) to withdraw from the current active territory within 5 days or else there would be operations in the areas, there is as yet no clashes. But, not less than 9 battalions of Burma Army have been surrounding the SSPP/SSA headquarters in Wan Hai Village in Kehsi township, reported a source close to the SSA.
The soft spoken President complaint of the KIA as not forthcoming in its issuance to hold fire to its troops is only partially correct. But the real motive behind is that the bulk of the military officers are bent on teaching the KIA a lesson for hurting their pride by inflicting huge causality on the Burma Army. Other than that, consideration of territorial gain would create better bargaining position for the government also cannot be ruled out.
The President in it latest interview with the VOA pinpointed two priorities, achieving peace and development, for the country to be able to move forward. He also stated that the armed ethnic groups and, as well, his government have political will to end the conflict and spelled out his often repeated three stages peace-plan of discussion at the State level, discussion at the Union level and discussion at the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.
The discussion at the Union level includes living forever in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, accepting Our Three Main National Causes, lawful business activities, participation in anti-narcotics drives, participation in politics by establishing political parties, accepting the constitution and amending at the Hluttaw if they want to and transformation into only one armed organization. (Source: SHAN -14 August 2012)
The biggest stumbling block, as pointed out by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) is that it preferred to resolve the ethnic conflict outside the parliament in an all-inclusive conference.
The UNFC and ethnic nationalities see the Thein Sein regime as a group representing Burman military clique and NLD, including all Burmese political parties, as representatives of the Burman mass. And as such, the way to go for the non-Burman ethnic groups is through tripartite dialogue outside the parliament.
The UN has endorsed a tripartite dialogue in 1994 and the non-Burman ethnic groups envisaged a conference participated by equal number of representatives from the government, democratic forces and ethnic forces.
On 22 July 2012, the UNFC, an alliance of 11 armed movements (5 of which had entered ceasefire agreements with Naypyitaw) issued the 7 point announcement, which was adopted by the meeting between UNFC and non-UNFC armed movements on 7 August 2012.
Its 7 point platform are as follows:
- Talks outside each side’s “sphere of influence”
- An international body of observers
- Negotiations with all armed movements, both ceasefire and non-ceasefire
- A convention among ethnic movements, both armed and non-armed
- A broad-based national convention made up delegates from the ethnic forces, democratic forces and the government
- Decisions reached at the said national convention to be implemented by all concerned
- Completion of the process “before the general elections in 2015” (Source: SHAN - 14 August 2012)
Again, also in a recent VOA interview, President Thein Sein stressed that reform process need to be speedily implemented. But if the regime would go about with the process slowly and clumsily, it will encounter lots of difficulties. Now even while trying to accelerate the reform process, the regime is faced with loads of hardship. It wants the transition to be speedy and fast and to do it; slow and clumsy people will have to be left out, both within the government and the Parliament. The President said that he had openly made known to the concerned people of his intention to drop them, if they go about clumsily and hinder the process.
The Wall Street Journal of 19 August reported the U.S.'s first ambassador to Myanmar in 22 years, Derek Mitchell said that in order to get sanctions lifted, Myanmar would have to begin releasing the "hundreds" of political prisoners still behind bars, confirm it has cut off weapons transfers with North Korea "once and for all," and take more substantial steps to achieve peace in ethnic-controlled areas—a task he described as "the defining challenge of Myanmar."
To come back to the resolution of ethnic conflict, the question now is if the “President’s leave behind anti-reformer” program will included active-military officers and government officials in his house-cleaning process. For now, it seems the President is still backing the military hardliners and buying their reason that the armed conflict continues, due to the non-cooperation of KIA for not issuing to hold fire orders to its troops.
Previously, at the start of the armed conflict between the KIA and government troops, the President issued a directive to halt all offensives and maintain truce. But as the conflict escalated, critical question were asked on why the field commanders disobey the presidential order. The reason given then was that due to communication problems, some Burma Army units in the field had not received the directive and thus, the armed conflict continued, due to misunderstanding.
Now after a little more than a year, the conflict goes on unabated, forcing the government to give another plausible reason on why its Burma Army has failed to implement the presidential directive.
Seen from the lengthy interviews in VOA Burmese section, it is hard not to believe that the President is a real reformer. He is soft-spoken, humble, articulate, considerate, and down to earth in his approach on various issues and has shown to be pragmatic and visionary for the betterment of the country. One might even go so far as to say that he has been able to brush aside his acquired military mindset and is on his way to be a true reformer.
The acquired military mindset is an indoctrination of “ethnocentrism or racial supremacy” thinking and “total elimination” of all ethnic and ideological oppositions to military rule.
“As a soldier for my whole career, fighting these armed groups, I saw them as ‘the enemy’ – but when I became president, I realised the death of a Kachin soldier is the same as the death of a national army soldier – it is the death of a Myanmar citizen and therefore a loss to the country,” he tells the Financial Times in one of the first interviews he has given since becoming president 18 months ago. “Now I no longer see [rebel forces] as part of the ‘enemy’ but as part of the solution.” (Source: Democracy Digest – 12 July 2012)
If this commitment is his real intention and true-self, the last hurdle for him would be to embrace the norm of “Unity in Diversity” in words and deeds. And the best place to start is to extinguish the fire of ethnic conflict by removing those obstacles, who he termed “slow and clumsy” elements hindering the peace process.
Meanwhile, on Monday 20 August, in the latest series of sweeping reforms by Thein Sein government, the regime abolished the censorship of its media.
Hopefully, the reform-minded President, with the help of free media, will be able to remove spoilers and hardliners soon, so that the reform process could be accelerated in an appropriate and timely manner.The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor