USDP-Military Regime: Clinging to power monopoly at all cost?

U Aung Min, the President’s top peace negotiator is coming to Chiangmai, Thailand, where the bulk of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) have their offices, reportedly to talk about the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft, finalized between the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) and Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), on 31 March of this year.
On 29 June, Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC), close to the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), released a briefing emphasizing that the UPWC leader, U Aung Min might likely stick to the 31 March draft as a finalized one to ratify or signed, before moving on to the drawing of political framework, followed by the much awaited dialogue process.
The briefing writes: “The Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), led by Union Minister U Aung Min, will meet informally with the Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) Senior Delegation this week in Chiang Mai, Thailand, rather than holding the formal talks as proposed by the Senior Delegation. It is highly likely that U Aung Min and his team will adhere to the NCA draft finalized by the UPWC and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) on 31 March 2015. In addition, it appears the government is hesitant to recognize the Senior Delegation as a dialogue partner. These issues will likely create obstacles in moving forward with the peace process.”

But the EAOs’ Senior Delegation (SD) said that draft is not a finalized version and that its 15 or so amendment points proposal made in Law Khee Lah, a month ago, must be discussed and ironed out first, before the peace process could move forward.

The UPWC sees this as the SD hindering the process, while the SD could not understand for it is moving according to the procedure. From SD point of view, amending and touching up the draft is within the mandate of EAOs’ leadership and the UPWC has nothing to complain about. And NCCT only has the mandate to negotiate to the utmost limit that it could achieve by bargaining with the UPWC. The finalized version of 31 March is the outcome of such document and in no way a complete treaty to be signed by the EAOs, but a version to be reviewed and make necessary amendments by the EAOs’ leadership. The Law Khee Lah summit meeting of EAOs has thus finalized the draft that reflects the collective aspirations and is ready to negotiate the result with the government, which will be headed by the SD that has more power to decide on the spot, except for the signing of it. For only another, final EAOs leadership summit meeting could decide the ratification of the ironed out and agreed draft outcome, to be worked out together between the UPWC and SD. This is, at least, the procedure or consideration from the point of SD.

According to the ENAC briefing:“The Senior Delegation was formed to move the NCA process forward smoothly. The NCCT and UPWC are working groups that cannot pursue anything outside of their mandates.”

VOA report on 30 June, Nai Han Tha, a top NCCT peace negotiator and now an SD member, said that it is hard to alter the EAOs’ leadership decision. He said: “When signing the 31 March draft, NCCT already made it clear that it is in no position to make decision and that it has to table the draft to the EAOs leadership for eventual filling in and alteration, after which further discussion would be made. It is also included in the draft. Now they are indicating that it should not be changed and I’m disappointed. And we cannot also make changes to the EAOs’ leadership decision.”

Earlier, complicating the process it was said that the regime’s side didn’t have confidence and enough trust, even to initially meet the newly formed body of SD, according to the sources from Myanmar Peace Center (MPC).

Another reason given by U Aung Min is that the main text of 31 March be left untouched, but could carry on all untouched, unresolved issues in the appendix section for further discussion, except for secession and infringement of sovereignty. For the SD inclusion for discussions doesn’t mean that the issues that need immediate attention would be accepted.
Lawyer U Aung Htoo, principal of the Federal Law Academy, in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State, pointed out four points that won’t sit quite well with the regime, according to an interview given to the DVB, on 25 June.

The first is the inserting of a paragraph, which writes: “It is decided that it means, in endorsing the Union Accord to become law, the Assembly of the Union may not in any way refuse, reject and make postponement.”

Signing a “Union Accord” or “Pyidaungsu Accord” is the second last step, in NCA’s seven steps roadmap.

The second is the “security reintegration” issue, which the EAOs have decided to leave out “reintegration” and addressed as only “security” issue. The reason is that it could either be surrender or integration of the EAOs forces into the Burma Army. And as such could become a problem in further interpretation.

The third is transitional period arrangement. Since the transition time span could be long there are things that need to be worked out in cooperation or jointly. The EAOs have included an issue, which concerns “Land use and natural resources management”. This means, the hitherto regime sole responsible area of decision will have to be shared with the EAOs.

The final one is the involvement of international witnesses that the EAOs have demanded, when signing the NCA, in addition to the participation of top three branches personnel of the country – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The reason that the EAOs insist on such international involvement of UN General Secretary, ASEAN General Secretary, the U.S., China, India, Thailand, U.K., Japan and Norway were to pave way for joint-monitoring mechanism, like in case of Aceh of Indonesia; for joint-monitoring between the regime’s military and the EAOs had never worked in the past, or even the present, if Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Burma Army joint-monitoring undertaking is to be taken as evidence. And so, the EAOs move is to solicit such an international participation, according to U Aung Htoo’s interpretation.

Apart from that, while the regime would like to portray the happening as a conflict resolution and reconciliation among members of the same family, the EAOs, clearly see that the treaty is made between territorial-state-based nationalities and the Burmese regime that has an internationally accepted norms.

On top of all these, the EAOs’ all-inclusive signing of the NCA and establishing a national-state-based federal union are problematic areas, where the government is still not on the same page with the EAOs and ethnic nationalities as a whole.

The recent constitutional amendment debacle also poisoned the already deteriorating ethnic-regime relationship. According to Myanmar Times, on 26 June, the voting outcome is as follows:

Full voting results
Proposed changes required the support of 75 percent of all 633 MPs, or at least 475 votes in favor. Only 583 MPs were present for the vote.

Section 59(d) – 556 votes, 87.8%

Section 59(f) – 371 votes, 58.6%
Section 60(c) – 386 votes, 61%
Section 418(b) – 386 votes, 61%
Section 436(a) – 388 votes, 61.3%
Section 436(b) – 388 votes, 61.3%

As all could see, the most crucial Section 436 (a) (b) and 59 (f) were effectively blocked with the 25% appointed military vote, which means even lowering of the 75% necessary vote-ceiling to 70% could not even be tolerated by the military bloc. More than 75% MPs vote is needed, in order to sail through the first motion, within the parliament.
If one would heap the blame at USDP-Military regime as not having “political will” to compromise, it will certainly not agree. From its perspective, making way for a nominal civilian regime is a big sacrifice; just keeping 25% appointed MPs for the military is also a largesse to ensure that the military will not make a coup; accepting the word “federalism” in itself is also a turnaround if one looks at it as being a taboo theme, since the military coup in 1962; degradation of the military’s prestige by making room or even talks to the assorted lowly ethnic insurgent groups is also because of the love for the country; and finally, allowing and even participating in the constitution amendments originally called for by ethnic and opposition political parties, and later taken over and headed by the regime’s USDP, it is indeed a big compromise. Only it could not allow things to get out of hand and thus the rejection of changing the Article 436, which might reduce the military veto vote of 25%.

It depends on how one looks at it with regards to “political will”. But one thing is evident amendments to dilute the military’s political power monopoly will not be tolerated either within the parliament or outside of it. And this includes the NCA, where the EAOs are pushing for genuine federal union and reformation of the Tatmadaw or Burma Army into a federal one.

Meanwhile, Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing told the Chinese diplomat, Sun Guoxiang, who had attended the Law Khee Lah meeting earlier in Karen State, that it was important ethnic rebels abandon armed struggle and accept the process of DDR—disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, according to the military-owned Myawaddy newspaper, reported The Irrawaddy, on 30 June.

“In any country there is only one armed force,” Min Aung Hlaing said, adding that ethnic armed groups should have the will to integrate according to the law and that their demands should be “logical.”

According to the SHAN report of 1 July, Min Aung Hlaing has summoned and reprimanded the United Wa State Army’s (UWSA) representatives, in Naypyidaw, telling them that the confiscated logs won’t be given back and the six arrested Chinese won’t also be released. He further said that they cannot defy the country, while living in it and that measured retaliation will be employed against the Wa. And as if to prove his point, soldiers from Light Infantry Division 55, Kalaw, Southern Shan State, were moved to the Thai border area, using some fifty trucks to transport them.

The beefing up of Wa and Burmese forces have forced hundreds of residents in Mongton township, opposite Chiangmai province, to seek refuge inside Thai territory since 2 June, when the Burma Army detained 16 loggers hired by the UWSA.

Taking cue of the chain of happenings, a keen Burma-watcher told this writer that “If the USDP-Military regime’s amendment rejection is still not enough to convince the na├»ve and well-meaning optimistic people, domestically and internationally, that it will try to hold on to political power monopoly at all cost, wait till the regime refuses to consider about EAOs leadership’s 15 points amendment proposal and even to deal with EAOs’ SD; torpedoes the whole NCA; puts the blame on the EAOs as a whole, and wages an undeclared war, or even a declare all out war, to prove its point”

Let us just hope that the keen Burma-watcher is wrong.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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Burma Army: All quiet on the southern front

The Burma Army informed its Thai counterpart yesterday at the monthly meeting in Tachilek that there has been no fighting along the areas close to the Thai-Burmese border, reported the Thai daily Matichon.
BA all quiet

“All reports on the clashes (between the United Wa State Army and the Burma Army) are unsubstantiated,” Maj Aung Tin Oo, Commander of Light Infantry Battalion 526 and co-chairman of the Township level Border Committee (TBC), told Col Praphat Phopsuwan, Commander of the Thai Army’s Phamueng Force.

The beefing up of forces between the two sides have forced hundreds of residents in Mongton township, opposite Chiangmai province, to seek refuge inside Thai territory since 2 June, when the Burma Army detained 16 loggers hired by the UWSA.

The UWSA had met government representatives on 24 June in Naypyitaw to defuse the tension. “But we have yet to see any significant reduction of troops on both sides,” said an elder.

The two sides that had since 1989 launched joint operations against the Shans’ Mong Tai Army (MTA) and, after its surrender in 1996, the Shan State Army (SSA) South, are going through a military confrontation for the second time in two years.

Burma meanwhile informed that a Guo Dazhong, a close aide of Peng Jiasheng, leader of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) that has been fighting against the Burma Army since February, was believed to have crossed the border into the kingdom and requested its cooperation in his capture.

Thailand and Burma hold regular border meetings at three levels:

Township Border Committee (TBC), Regional Border Committee (RBC), and Joint Border Committee (JBC). The last RBC meeting was held in Chiangmai in May.

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Modest review on Kambawza (2)

Modest review on Kambawza (2)

Title: Kambawza: A modern review
Author: Daw Mi Mi Khaing
Number of Pages: 60 A4 size

There are a lot more in the booklet that one can read and smile or grimaced. Because the author was, right or wrong, brutally frank about what she wrote. What impresses me is not just the facts but her impressions bluntly expressed.

One that won’t fail the reader from smiling is about the legend of the much-visited Pindaya cave. To make her story short, a princess was imprisoned in the cave by a sorcerer her mut. The hero, who came to save her, shot at him with arrows but to no avail, because he was endowed with a charmed life. That is until the princess “lifted her longyi (skirt) and covered his head with it. This laid him out at once. Hurrahs for being the weaker sex, the lower sex, which can by a fling of the contaminating defiling longyi, dispel all manhood, all mental powers of those vaunted superior beings, the Men!”

Cheers to her, I’m just glad I had never been at the receiving end of her caustic sarcasm.

And there’s one for the Burmans who believe they are the descendents of the Sakya, the Lord Buddha’s clan, and displaying so much pride on it, they make others sick. Here it is:

“From Tagaung (meaning Drum Ferry City in Shan), (the chronicles) say a descendent of Abiyaza (Pali: Abhiraja said to be of the Sakya clan) came to found the old kingdom of Mongmao, further north, which was the original Kambawza of the Shans. From here stemmed four sons taking rule over various North Burma capitals, one of them being Mongmit (Momeik) and On Baung (Hsipaw) combined.”

If today’s Shans are to take it as gospel, then maybe we’ll soon be witnessing the rise of a Shan Ma Ba Tha (Association for Protection of Race and Religion). Then maybe they can merge together to form a bloc against other races and religions. The likelihood however is that they may each claim to be the true clan of the Lord Buddha and wind up fighting against each other, despite what He had always said about war and peace:

The conqueror begets enmity
The defeated lie down in distress
Those who give up both victory and defeat
Only they rest in happiness

Anyway, being proud of one’s race didn’t appear to help the Buddha’s kinfolks much. They were destroyed by the neighboring Kosala in the end.

Here is where her grim story comes.

Twet-Nga-Lu, having made his debut by an attack on Mongnai town, was later appointed Administrator of Kengtawng State by King Thibaw. Mongnai Sawbwa, objecting, petitioned against the appointment. King Thibaw flew into a rage at such officiousness and sent for the Sawbwa. The Sawbwa sent his sister instead. Vain sacrifice of a girl --- she was arrested, not honored, and Mongnai was summoned again. He shilly-shallied and the Sitkegyi, interpreting this delay as an intent to flee, instructed the Sawbwas of Mawkmai and Kengtung not to harbor Mongnai if he fled to them. This drastic order touched off a Shan rebellion led by the Sawbwa. Wholesale massacre of the Burmese followed; no hiding for nay Burman, the Shan had a formula for detecting all masquerades. Pointing their dahs they ordered every man to say in Shan “Tomato!”, “Makhersohm” it was, but alas, no Burmar can produce any such sound, and all their broad rendering of “Makaisun” and such like were cut short with a thrust. It was a bloody debacle. Five Burmese regiments were rushed down from Mandalay together with auxiliaries from the loyal states. Mongnai fled.

This reminds me of the 1996-68 forced relocation when more than 300,000 Shan villagers from 1,500 villages in 11 townships were displaced, many of them killed. One of the commanders reportedly told a pro-government militia, “I’d regret the loss of a tomato than the death of ten Shans.” To this day, I have no idea whether or not he was referring to the 1882 episode in Mongnai.

Coming to this, her remark on war is thought provoking:

“It is no use to count old scores and remember that the Burmese burnt here and the Shan there ---wars were the fashion in those days all over the world, a luxury which power-seeking nation makers could afford better than their modern counterparts because their weapons were less cruel and destructive.”

Well, what more can I add? Eloquence was one her gifts. It has never been mine.

So what does she think about the Shan, one of whom, she had married?

In one chapter, Mongnai and the Southeast I, she writes: The Shan race today is not only spent by the constant warring of the past but also sapped to its vitals almost, by malaria.

Then in a previous chapter, Hsenwi II, she says:

When the last of King Anawrahta’s dynasty died, however, the Shans were still going strong and divided Burma between them, holding sway for over 2 centuries. But soon after this power waned and from King Bayinnaung’s time till the turn of the 19th century, the Shan have steadily spent themselves fighting, valley against valley, principality against principality.

Like it or not, what she had written was what Shan historians have been thinking all along. Probably, they are thinking on similar lines in Mongolia, where its greatest son Genghis Khan was born. What went wrong?

The day they find the answer may be the day when they take their first step into a place in the sun again.

Until then, I’ll stick to the saying: “A ship does not sail with yesterday’s winds.”

Neither does a people become great with yesterday’s glory, we may add.

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A modest review of the no-longer modern review

Title: Kambawza– A modern review
Author: Daw Mi Mi Khaing (1916-1990)
Number of pages: 60 A4 size

Vintage books, old china, antiques;
Maybe I love old things so much
Because I feel impermanent myself.
Josh Lanyon,” Fatal Shadows”(2000)

The book — or rather the 28 articles which were later combined into a booklet– was written right after the Karen insurrection in 1949 that spread from the Burmese lowlands in the south to the highlands of Shan State in the north, and the Kuomintang incursion in 1950.
Daw Mi Mi Khaing (left), Sao Saimong Mangrai (centre), Sao Sai Long (right) at their Kengtung Palace, Taunggyi, c. 1935

The Shans, and the non Shans living together, still had their saofas ( lords of the skies)then: 34 of them in fact, whose domains Daw Mi Mi Khaing had visited with her husband Sao Saimong Mangrai (1913-1987),whose scholarly work, The Shan States and the British Annexation (1965),had won him a huge following among the Shans.
Not all these princely states were Shan however, as can be observed through the following list:

Shan                21 states
Danu                7 states
PaO                  2 states
Wa                   1 state
Kayan              1 state
Kokang            1 state
Palaung           1 state

These ruling princes, despite strong mixed feelings expressed by many of them, had taken a momentous decision in 1947 to join with Burma in order to achieve a ‘speedy freedom’ from the British.

The Panglong conference and its outcome are described by her in this way:
Till this day it remains a miracle to those of us present, how from fervid Shan, Kachin and Chin discussions of old resentments,fears and defensive safeguards a metamorphosis took place overnight into a feeling of brotherhood which swept everyone off his feet.
At the time of her writing, the saofas (commonly written saopha,saohpa or sawbwa) were still lords of their domains if not of the skies. And she was an admirer of several of them including:
  • Sao Homfa of Hsenwi “is the most colorful of the leaders who remain— a Shan sawbwa with a solid body of Kachins among his subjects, forming in his personality a bridge between past days and the present, autocratic in the days of autocracy, magnanimous and conceding in these days of change, always positive, astute and daring.”
  • Sao Hkun Pan Sing of Tawngpeng ” is the most cheerful looking man in the whole Shan State. To see him is to love him.”
  • Sao Hkun Kyi of Hsihseng was “a big made handsome man with a strong temper, he seemed cut out to lead the Taungthus (PaO) into anything which would have advanced their cause.”
Following independence in 1948, all powers were vested in the Shan State Council, composed of equal number of saofas and elected commoners. “These changes have made it possible for the representative section of the people of Shan State to manage their own affairs, and apart from the appointment of a few senior specialists from the Burma services, there has been no flooding of the administration by Burmans as the Shans had been led to fear would happen.”

This was true even in the area of defense.
In August 1949, the state capital  Taunggyi was overrun by the Karen resistance force, Karen National Defense Organization(KNDO) that had called for a coalition against Rangoon, then the country’s administrative and commercial capital.

She together with her family was then on the way from Taunggyi to the north. “(During the overnight stay in Loilem) the Shan officer sent by the KNDO to propose ‘Karen-Shan amalgamation against the Burmans’ to the Hsenwi sawbwa at Lashio,had returned. (Through him we learned) that Hsenwi had given the answer:’ No amalgamation. We will fight.'”

The sawbwas were then ordered by him to mobilize. At Mongkung, she saw” mustached Shans of the old gentle type, with turbans and pinni boungbis (traditional baggy Shan pants) receiving each his rifle from the sawbwa’s stock, while bags of rice brought in by headmen were being loaded with rolls of bedding on to the lorries; and the sawbwa himself, who has his own eccentricities, was holding a rifle as he rushed about giving orders with his gaungbaung (turban) awry. Where the Union army could not reach out far enough or soon enough, the very same apparatus which had got up expeditions for or against the Burmese king had to be set creaking again.”

Today all these things have changed. From self dependents, Shans have become dependents, to the extent that even if their Burmese rulers agree to leave tomorrow, they wouldn’t know what to do with their sudden freedom.

So how does one see the Shan State in the next 60 years?
Being human, one and all, Shans may yearn for the return of Daw Mi Mi Khaing’s Kambawza while their Burmese rulers may for the non perish ability of today’s Shan State under their firm control, by chanting incantations like ‘non-disintegration’ and ‘perpetuation’ in their vain endeavor against Anicca ( The Law of Change).

But if anything can be learned from her, it is that tomorrow’s Shan State is going to be different from today’s, just as it is from yesterday’s.

My only hope, perhaps a vain one, is that someone may remember to write about it. And vainer still, I may come back to read it.

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Wa, Burma Army re-affirm peace

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Burma Army yesterday reached a mutually happy decision after a 15-day stand-off over the latter’s seizure on 2 June of timber felled by the former in Mongton township, opposite Chiangmai’s Chiangdao district, according to sources.
Scale of the gold
The UWSA agreed to pay a hefty fine exacted by the forestry department. “They also agreed to purchase the timber that they had logged,” said a local source.

“The Burma Army, in return, agreed to free the 6 Chinese nationals detained at the logging site (in Mong Khid village tract, east of the township seat),” said a Shan villager close to the Wa army. No details however were given as to the amount paid by the UWSA.

In the meanwhile, a source close to the Wa said both sides have withdrawn their troops out of the disputed area. “Traffic and life have returned to normal,” he added.

On the other hand, more than 10 armored vehicles were seen leaving Tachilek on their way to Monghsat, the seat of the district which comprises Mongton, Monghsat and Mongpiang townships, last night. It is not known whether the move is related to the tensions between the two sides.

The UWSA, since 1993, has been calling for a statehood separate from Shan State, which has been one of the causes of tension.

One of the former resistance fighters however has dismissed predictions by some that the two sides may end up fighting again each other.

“The Burmese (army) may hate the Wa,” he told SHAN. “But the Wa are serving as its good proxy against the Shan (resistance). And, unlike the Shans, the Wa has the backing of China. So I don’t think the Burma Army may start a fight against the Wa yet.”

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The peace process: The singer not the song may be the problem

So many have read the (2-9 June) Law Khee Lar resolutions. And some of them have even listened to arguments from both sides. One thing positive that came out is that there is as yet no one saying its 15 point proposal for the amendment of the NCA draft is unacceptable.

Properly speaking, it should be called a 12 point proposal, as 2 of them are:

  • “(We agree to establish a democratic and Federal Union) in accordance with the outcomes of the political dialogues”
  • “To submit (The Union Peace Accord) to the Union legislature for ratification”
which would not be amended. And the third was that the said NCA draft has been approved with proposed amendments by the conference.

The conference also debated at length whether or not to change “in accordance with the Panglong spirit” to the more unambiguous “in accordance with the Panglong Agreement” as suggested by the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) but the final resolution that was passed was to keep it as it is in the draft text.

The conference likewise had no problem with the government’s sacred Three Causes: Non- disintegration of the Union, Non- disintegration of National Solidarity, and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty.

The rest are more about the wordings rather than principles except for two:
  • “To coordinate and undertake administration of humanitarian assistance by NGOs and INGOs for IDPs and conflict victims with the permission of the Union government” that “with the permission of Union government” should be dropped
  • “Matters relating to management of land and natural resources” should be added to the work programs which are to be carried out in consultation with each other during the interim period
It would therefore not have taken more than one meeting to straighten out the draft, granted both sides are willing and eager to achieve peace, and no hidden agenda is involved.

The problem however is that if both sides agree to meet there will be new and untried negotiators on each side, who tend to be stronger on “debate” than in “sales”. Which may not bode well for reaching a swift agreement.

Making it worse is the fact that there are, according to a prominent politician, those who are for “throwing away the one bird in hand for the two up in the trees” on the one side and those that want to leave everything to “the two birds up in the trees” on the other.
All these remind one of an old movie where the dying desperado tells the priest who has been trying to convert him his last words: “It is the singer, not the song.” The meaning was clear: To most people, the message is less important than the messenger.

The only hope for peace therefore is that the negotiators on both sides are not “most people” and they will try their best to cooperate with each other to work out the best solution for the country and its 50 million inhabitants, before time runs out, as it always does.

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KOKANG CONFLICT: Rejection of unilateral ceasefire a wise choice?

It seems the Thein Sein regime’s wait and see stance to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) unilateral ceasefire announcement is very short-lived. For shortly after the declaration, the Burma Army (BA), also known as Tatmadaw, launched two days long attacks on MNDAA positions near the China-Burma border post 111, north of Laukkai.
According to VOA, Burmese section, report of 13 June, Tun Myat Lin, secretary general and spokesman for MNDAA said: “ Tatmadaw made military offensive with heavy weapons and infantry forces. It is the same today, at border post 111, in the north of Laukkai Township. Yesterday, there were offensives using infantry forces twice. Also today, as far as I know, the fighting is still going on. After we unilaterally declare ceasefire, they started to attack. It is clear that they responded to our announcement with military offensives.”

When Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s was asked, regarding the MNDAA unilateral ceasefire declaration, for China’s comment, during the regular press conference on June 12, 2015, he replied:

We have noted reports about the unilateral ceasefire announced by the relevant party involved in the conflicts in northern Myanmar. We welcome that and hope that warring parties in Myanmar could meet each other halfway, exercise restraint, cease the warfare as soon as possible and bring normal order back to the border area between China and Myanmar.”
“The Chinese side holds a clear-cut stance on the issue of northern Myanmar. We support the settlement of disputes through peaceful negotiations by parties concerned in Myanmar, so as to realize peace and national reconciliation at an early date and keep the China-Myanmar border stable. It serves the common interests of the two sides. To make that happen, the Chinese side has played a constructive role in pushing forward the peace process in northern Myanmar at the request of the Myanmar side, and has been welcomed by the Myanmar side. Going forward, the Chinese side will continue to make positive efforts to that end.”

Hardly had the Chinese endorsement of peaceful negotiations to end the conflict, following the Kokang’s unilateral ceasefire declaration, was publicly made known, the BA launched massive military offensives, within a day of the announcement.

According to VOA, China-based Burma expert, Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw interprets the situation as follows: “ I see that the Burma Army doesn’t seem to be ready for peace and cool down the armed conflicts, since they’re creating armed conflicts, one after another. On the part of Kokang, they’re only thinking and aiming at regaining a political space for themselves.

That’s why they’re initiating unilateral ceasefire, also, in part, according to China’s pressure. But the Burmese regime and military seem more desirable to go on with the civil war. So it looks like, it is restarting the animosity. For China, if the civil war doesn’t spill over into its territory, it is alright. It has already made necessary preparation for such eventuality. Since it has to observe non-interference of other country internal affairs, etc., it could be taken that China won’t be more involved than this, at the moment.”

BBC, Burmese section, of 13 June said that in the course of BA attacks on MNDAA positions along the border, stray bullets landing on Chinese soils were reported by the Kokang side, but couldn’t be confirmed and received no response from government side either, when asked about it.

Accordingly, Min Zaw Oo, director of Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) said that the regime has no policy to implement ceasefire with the Kokang group; and that for the time being, it is only adhering to the 14 Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) ceasefire agreements and armed conflict deescalation agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA). Regarding Kokang, the regime is now only tackling the security issue, although the political dialogue door is opened, ceasefire arrangement still cannot be made; the government, the parliament and the military have no differences on this line of principle.
Apart from that the Kokang unilateral ceasefire declaration is seen as a sign of weakness from government quarters, interpreting that it has come up with such move for it is losing militarily, with the government troops retaking back most areas previously under MNDAA control.

The information minister, U Ye Htut, told BBC, on 11 June, that the regime will not tolerated infringement of national sovereignty of any group and that it will be met with military response. Besides, he stressed that MNDAA has started the fight.

On top of all these, Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hliang’s latest interview with The Mainichi, on 12 June, clearly spelled out on what kind of political course that the military is determined to chart, regardless of President’s peace process initiatives and political tug of war going on in today’s Burma political arena.

He outlined that he is against constitutional amendments; fervent believer of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) or negotiated surrender of the EAOs; and a confessed follower of General Than Shwe, who is the architect of the present quasi-civilian regime, which would enable the military to dominate the country’s political system and power for as long as it is necessary.

When asked if he means that this is not the right time to amend Section 436, he replied: “ I have to say that this is not a suitable time yet for that.”

The 2008, military drafted Constitution of chapter 12’s article 436 gives the Burmese military an effective veto over constitutional amendments.

Regarding DDR, Min Aung Hliang said: “Due to my yielding to the wishes of the armed groups as much as I can, we are now at a stage where we could already sign a draft ceasefire agreement. The next step is having discussions. The most important issue would be security reconciliation. Roughly, we call it DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). This is a must. There are countries in this world where there are armed conflicts. Among these countries, those that could work on security reconciliation in time gained lasting peace, while others that could not did not gain lasting peace and still trying to solve their problems. Hence, it is necessary for ethnic armed groups to work on security reconciliation.”

Min Aung Hlaing’s security reconciliation is interpreted by the EAOs as “negotiated surrender”, for they are for security sector reform (SSR), which aims at amending the present Burman-dominated army into a federal union army structure, where the EAOs will be integrated and become part of the federal union army, serving their respective homelands.

He also made his admiration and respect for General Than Shwe known, when he said: “ Senior General Than Shwe also did his part, as much as he could, to transform the defense services into a modern one by leading the armed forces for many years. To tell the truth, the armed forces became modern due to his endeavors. He also put Myanmar on the path to democracy. We cannot forget his thankful deeds. He also did his best. The multi-party democratic path that he transformed could become firm as we carefully take control of it a bit.”

Of course, many others see the senior General as the one who carefully prepare the transformation of the direct military dictatorship rule to a quasi-civilian regime to be more acceptable domestically and internationally, where the military will still be dominant in Burma’s political arena for unforeseeable future.

Given such a backdrop, the regime’s outright rejection of Kokang’s unilateral ceasefire would mean that the border friction with China is programmed to reoccur again sooner or later, for stray bombs and bullets would definitely land on Chinese soil, as had happened many times during last few months, inflicting human and material causalities on the Chinese population along the border. This would inevitably prompt the Chinese to take action and no one knows what would follow, except that the conflict would become international, leading to more sophisticated consequences.

This attitude of “zero-sum” game would also exacerbate the already problematic situation to accommodate the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) amendments of EAOs, which clearly said that all-inclusive signing by all its members as a precondition to ratify the document. And finally, this will push the regime to employ other solution to achieve its goal-setting, which could be anything from unilaterally going it alone on its own agenda, or implementing its desired terms together with some EAOs that are willing to go along, including some political parties, to abandoning the whole peace process altogether.
Whatever the case, the regime should now earnestly rethink if it is worth to go on with its “total annihilation” policy of Kokang group at all cost, just to satisfy its ego and take revenge for its lost of face, regarding the massive human causalities inflicted upon BA, or agree with Kokang’s peaceful overtures, China’s constructive suggestion and end the conflict through negotiations.

As it stands, there is likelihood that the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, Aung San Suu Kyi’s might have carried messages from President Thein Sein and Min Aung Hliang, knowing that the Chinese would have a softer approach with her, according to a keen observer of Burma politics. He said: “ Now that Peking has ordered the MNDAA to a unilateral ceasefire, Min Aung Hliang has changed his tune that the Kokang problem is mainly a domestic problem and China has no hand in it. No more declarations of encroachment of sovereignty and national security. Now let’s wait and see what China’s next move is.”

The observer added: “ The Commander-in-Chief wants to prove that his army is the almighty power that the Ethnic Nationalities must live to accept. The Independence Day Parade was a show of force and a warning that we will be punished with those weapons. He has new arms and reinforcements in the past 4 years and still has to prove himself.”

While it is highly unlikely that BA will declare an outright ceasefire which would be a lost of pride and face, it certainly needs an outlet to come out of its own self-made rhetoric trap of “total annihilation” that it has entangled. But the sooner the pragmatic approach of reconciliation through negotiation is employed to defuse the warring situation, the better the political climate will develop for Burma as a whole.

It is now up to the Commander-in-Chief and the President to decide.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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Will Burma Army react positively to Kokang overtures?

news_opinion_SaiwansaiOn the heels of Law Khee Lah Summit Meeting and coinciding with Aung San Suu Kyi’s China visit,  Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), or better known as Kokang group, issued a statement that it has decided to unilaterally imply a ceasefire with the Burma Army (BA), due to the strong desire of China for a peaceful border;  reacting to the people’s desire of Burma’s democratization process and to be able to conduct the national election. It said, the decision will go into effect on 10 June, after mid-night.

According to DVB report of 11 June, Tun Myat Lin, spokesman and general secretary of MNDAA,    said: “The main reason for declaring a ceasefire is that we don’t want to cause a delay to the ongoing nationwide peace process. Also, we never actively attacked the government since the beginning of the conflict, and we want everyone to know that.”
He added: “We are concerned that the conflict will hinder the elections. We understand the general election is a crucial event for the country, and while polling will not take place in our area, we have to consider our ethnic brethren across the country.”

Earlier, voter registration is not being carried out in areas of Shan State deemed to be insecure, and voting may not take place in those areas in November, according to U Than Lwin Nyein, deputy director of Shan State election sub-committee. The Myanmar Times reported, on 20 March 2015, that it has learned that the state election commission has ordered its sub-commissions to omit registration in areas associated with some ethnic armed groups.

The townships, where voter registration could not be able to start in security-sensitive townships in the state “due to instability”, include Laukkai and Kon-kyan in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, Panwai Mongma, Pangsang, Nahpan and Metman in the Wa Self-Administered Division, and the area around Mong La in Kengtung district that is controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), also known as Mongla.

U Than Lwin Nyein said the commission does not even have offices in the areas and it would only conduct voter registration if the Union Election Commission specifically instructs it to do so.

Meanwhile, the Union Election Commission’s Chairman, U Tin Aye indicated that there is still a possibility elections could be held if the situation improves in the Kokang self-administrated region, where martial law is currently in place. The measure was introduced in February following the outbreak of hostilities, according to DVB report of 11 June 2015.
While it is not clear, why the MNDAA has initiated such a move, many think that it is desperate to end the border wars for a couple of reasons. The main reason could be to have a political foothold, like those of the government recognized negotiation partner, within the bound of Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), which is involved in the ongoing peace talks and the government is still refusing to recognize its organization. It is essential for it is quite clear political settlement could only be worked out through negotiations and not warfare. The second reason is simply to show the Chinese regime and as well the international community, that it is for peaceful settlement and in no way, is an aggressor or warmonger. Of course, considerations to do away with the human rights violations and sufferings of the Kokangnese, committed by the BA, must be one of its top priority; and ceasefire and negotiations are the only way to achieved this.

Given the Chinese nervosity and its recent military drill with live-ammunition along the border and the timely MNDAA overtures should be an opportunity to stop this senseless war, which is depleting the country’s financial resources, not to mention the human toll, counted in hundreds since the start of the war in February.

But for now it is an open question, the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military regime is still tight lipped and not sure on how and if it would respond to the MNDAA overtures.

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