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The Fight For Freedom in Burma
Democracy and Human Rights Without Borders
လမ္းျပၾကယ္ျမန္မာစာၾကည့္တိုက္ လက္ေရြးစင္ေဆာင္းပါး
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BURMA: Nation-wide ceasefire an
unreachable star?
Thursday, 26 July 2012 11:06 Sai Wansai
By: Sai Wansai
Thursday, 26 July 2012
By all accounts, the ceasefire initiative of Thein Sein government seems to be going
down the drain, leading perhaps towards total failure, if the Burma army military
commanders in the field could not be reined in and made to take orders from the
President.
Clearly upset by the latest 25th armed clash with the attacking Burma army on its
base in Mongpu Awn, Mongpiang Township, since it had signed truce on 2
December, Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) leader
Lt-Gen Yawdserk said: “I’m planning to write to President Thein Sein, and ask him to
see that there is no more fighting in the country.” He said, “At first, I thought the
said fights were started by the lower level units. Now I’m not sure.”
In the same vein, Shan State Progress Party / Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) recently
have its 24th armed clash with attacking Burmese army column, on 18 July, when
the attacking Burmese army column suffered more than 10 killed and 15 wounded
near Lashio.
Perhaps stung by the loss of face and high casualties on the part of Burma army,
Maj Gen Aung Kyaw Zaw, Commander of Lashio-based Northeastern Region
Command, has issued an ultimatum to the (SSPP/SSA) to withdraw from areas in
Lashio, Hsipaw and Mongyai townships within 5 days “if you pity the people there,”
according to SSPP/SSA sources.
Polaris Burmese Library Collections
The Fight For Freedom in Burma
Democracy and Human Rights Without Borders
လမ္းျပၾကယ္ျမန္မာစာၾကည့္တိုက္ လက္ေရြးစင္ေဆာင္းပါး
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Because of such repeated military actions in non-Burman ethnic areas, it is becoming
increasingly clear now that the success or failure of President Thein Sein’s ceasefire
overture will solely depend on whether he could make his field commanders, like Maj
Gen Aung Kyaw Zaw, obey his directive to maintain truce and stop their offensives
against the ethnic armies or not.
While it is to be taken that the President is genuinely in favour to reach some sort of
political settlement, by first establishing ceasefire agreement with the warring ethnic
armies, some hardliners or spoilers within the military are definitely against the plan.
This is quite evident for even after the establishment of the Union Peacemaking
Work Committee (UPWC) in May, which now also includes the military, the fighting
continues unabated in Kachin and Shan states. And it seems Deputy Commander-in-
Chief Gen Soe Win, Chairman of the UPWC, is powerless to undertake any drastic
action to make his commanders in the field to toe the line of government peace
overture to end the decades old ethnic conflict.
Seen from this perspective, it is not a wonder that RCSS/SSA leader Lt-Gen
Yawdserk has been openly showing his frustration and reservation to the signed
truce, due to Burma army’s series of attack on the SSA positions, even after
ceasefire was signed last year in December.
Likewise, Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) on 24 July reported that Shan
Nationalities League for democracy (SNLD) leader, Hkun Htoon Oo told U Aung Min,
trouble-shooter and peace negotiator for UPWC, that it is important that the
directive from government be followed and implemented by the military leaders, if
durable ceasefire is to be achieved. He pointed out the recent armed clashes
between the government troops and the SSA in northern and southern Shan state.
U Aung Min, vice chairman of the UPWC, was soliciting for cooperation from political
parties and civil societies for peace building and democratization, when he met Hkun
Htoon Oo.
Clearly aware of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities’ distrust of government peace
roadmap, during the said gathering with some 14 ethnic political parties, U Aung
Min, according to SNLD’s deputy leader Sai Nyunt Lwin, replied: “The guidelines are
not carved in stone. We can discuss and amend them as necessary. Right now, we
are working hard to hold a Panglong-like political dialogue before the end of 2014.”
Although this is a non-committal or clear-cut stance that the political settlement
would be ironed out outside the parliament, as desired by the ethnic nationalities –
in contrast to the government roadmap of thrashing it out through the majority vote
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The Fight For Freedom in Burma
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လမ္းျပၾကယ္ျမန္မာစာၾကည့္တိုက္ လက္ေရြးစင္ေဆာင္းပါး
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within the parliament, still it is a pleasant careful positioning and departure from
demanding to follow the rigid government plan without question. But whether this
could be translated into workable, practical term is totally another matter.
According to various reports, since June 2011, 1,640 clashes have taken place
between Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has still not agreed to sign
ceasefire with the government. President Thein Sein’s ceasefire initiative fails to
materialize, due to the fact that the Burma army field commanders refuse to obey
his directive to maintain truce and stop offensive. The KIA has simply just asked for
the withdrawal of confronting forces to a certain distance, so that ceasefire
arrangement could be worked out parallel to political dialogue. KIA maintains that
the ceasefire has already been signed with the government since 1994 and that
there is no need to sign another new one and all that is crucial is to start working on
a political settlement, which has been pending for decades.
A report filed by Altsean, titled “The war in Kachin State: A year of more
displacement and human rights abuses”, on 08 June, 2012 writes:
“Over the past year, fighting between the Tatmadaw (Burma army) and the KIA has
been relentless and widespread. In an attempt to portray himself as Burma’s
peacemaker, President Thein Sein ordered an end to military operations against the
KIA, on 10 December 2011 and 13 January 2012. However, the Tatmadaw pressed
on with troop deployments and military offensives, including attacks on civilians.
President Thein Sein, who also chairs the National Defense and Security Council
(NDSC), seemed to have accepted this apparent insubordination without comment.”
And as for the RCSS/SSA and SSPP/SSA, although ceasefire has already been signed
with the government, armed clashes continue to occur repeatedly. According to the
Shan sources, RCSS/SSA has had 25th and SSPP/SSA 24th armed engagements with
the Burma army, since the signing of ceasefire agreement a few months ago. Most
armed clashes occurred, due to the Burma army’s attacks on Shan positions and
intrusions into Shan areas of control.
It is also noteworthy that according to a new updated report published in August by
the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), 29% of Naypyitaw’s infantry
battalions are in the country’s biggest state, Shan.
Acknowledging that it is still in the process of tracking down new battalions being
formed by the regime, the 540-page study says it has so far been able to ferret out
526 of them, of which 152 are in Shan State:
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The Fight For Freedom in Burma
Democracy and Human Rights Without Borders
လမ္းျပၾကယ္ျမန္မာစာၾကည့္တိုက္ လက္ေရြးစင္ေဆာင္းပါး
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North Northeastern Command 50 (including 3 in Mongmit)
South Eastern Command 36 (not including units in Kayah)
Central Central East Command 26
East Triangle Command 40
Total 152
(Source: SHAN- 29 Sept 2011)
Since the conflict began a year ago, Burma army’s militarization of Kachin State has
intensified to an extent that this now represents almost 1/4 of the number of Burma
army battalions nationwide.
The Northern Region Command that oversees security in Kachin State has 46
infantry and light infantry battalions, according to the list compiled by Network for
Democracy and Development (NDD). But there are now more than 130 battalions,
according to reports from the border. ( Source: SHAN- 02 May 2012)
To wrap up, it looks like that there are indeed moderates/reformers on one side and
the hardliners/spoilers on the other. While President Thein Sein and U Aung Min
could fit into reformer profile, the military men, who are still loyal to General Than
Shwe or those who are still adhering to deeply rooted military doctrine of “total
elimination” and “Burmanisation” policy could be seen as hardliners or spoilers.
Total elimination is a solution to root out ethnic resistance forces militarily, for
example by using four-cut strategy of cutting off access to food, funds, information
and recruitment, often with devastating consequences for the concerned ethnic
population.
Burmanisation is a policy to coercively and institutionally assimilate all non-Burman
ethnic nationalities into the prescribed “Myanmar or Burman national identity” at the
expense of losing one’s ethnic and cultural identities.
But the tags, reformer and hardliner, are by no mean a fail-safe categorizing of the
interest groups within the power-that-be, for there could be another variable like
reformist President and the so-called hardliners playing the “good-cop, bad-cop”
scenario to extract the most benefit out of the present situation domestically and
internationally. No one will know for sure.
According to the two interviews conducted by SHAN, in Burmese section, on 13 and
25 July, Aung Kyaw Zaw, a well known Burma watcher stationed at the Burma-China
border, said that according to the resolutions reached at the latest tri-annual
meeting of the Burmese generals, each of the army unit’s mission is defeating the
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The Fight For Freedom in Burma
Democracy and Human Rights Without Borders
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armed resistance movements, especially the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). A
ceasefire arrangement, therefore, is not in the Burma Army’s cards.
If this is the case, the “good-cop, bad-cop” scenario might be in full play and we
could kiss good bye to the imagination or rhetoric of “marginalising the spoilers to
empower reformers”, leading to genuine reconciliation and democratisation process.
Either way, if the present, repeated, ongoing breaching of the truce in Shan state by
the Burma army are of any indication, the accusation of Aung Kyaw Zaw that the
military and the government are working hand-in-hand to maintain their domination
of political power, with every means available, could not be very far from the mark.
Given such unclear and often murky government position on this crucial issue, it is
most essential for President Thein Sein and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Gen Soe
Win to come up with some acceptable clarification on why nation-wide ceasefire
seems to be so unreachable.
The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor