Despite a promise to the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) by the Burma Army’s Central Eastern Commander that government troops would be withdrawn from contested SSPP/SSA areas, troop reinforcements are still being sent into the area.
After the SSPP/SSA had been forced to withdraw from their Ta Phar Hsawng base in Ke See township in early October, they met with the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee in Lashio on 18th October, where the Central Eastern Commander General Ko Ko Naing promised that government troops would be withdrawn from the disputed territories.
However, according to local residents, on 20th October 2014, the Eastern Region Command (Ya Pa Kha), based in Taunggyi, sent in at least ten trucks and over 200 troops to the SSPP/SSA controlled area.
“Strangely, the Burma Army has been sending in reinforcements in construction trucks, not military trucks. The soldiers were in civilian clothes, not army uniforms, and they were also hiding their guns and weapons. All troops from Lashio and Kholam were sent to the area in that way,” said a local residents who lives near the LIB 286 base in Murng Nong.
The government troops are also setting up a base at Ta Phar Hsawng, which they seized from the SSPP/SSA. They are ordering villagers to voluntarily provide them with bamboo, wood, and thatch to build their base, according to local villagers.
“General Ko Ko Naing said that the government troops that had been attacking the Ta Phar Hsawng base would retreat. He said that only two Burma Army units would stay in the area, and five units would be withdrawn. But so far we haven’t seen any sign that they will withdraw. Instead, they are digging trenches. In Murng Hsu we have seen around 10 military trucks moving toward Murng Ort. Since 17th October, there have also been 6 military trucks coming down from Tangyan,” said one of the SSPP/SSA commanders at the frontlines.
According to an officer from the SSPP/SSA headquarters, the Central Eastern Command has demanded that the SSPP/SSA withdraw all their troops from the areas of Tah Phar Hsawng, Pan Ze, and Loi Yoi, in Ke See township, within five days, or they would have to use force to drive out the SSPP/SSA.
Apart from promising to withdraw their troops at the Lashio meeting, the Burma Army also agreed to provide compensation of around 2.2 million kyats (USD 2,200) to the war refugees and to villagers whose homes were destroyed and who lost their property due to the fighting in Ta Phar Hsawng. However, according to local residents, no compensation has yet been given to any villagers.
The SSPP/SSA and the Burmese government signed a union level cease fire agreement nearly three years ago, but there has continued to be fighting between the two sides. Accusing the SSPP/SSA of intruding into Union territories, the Burma Army has progressively occupied SSPP/SSA areas and bases.
‘…the Shan is a Buddhist when he is well and animist when he is ill’, this is a statement made by (James Haxton) Telford, a scholar who had studied animism in Burma. He further comments that despite the fact that Shan have been converted to Buddhism for centuries, the breakaway from animism was never completed (Telford: 1937). To some degree, his statement is still relevant to most Shan Buddhists today. They celebrate religious ceremonies lavishly all year round in their happy days. But in times of ailing, they are busy with animistic ways, such as, consulting the shaman, searching for khwan (ၶႂၼ်/ၽၼ်) (soul), incantation candle etc until it becomes difficult for outsiders to differentiate between Buddhism and animism. This is partly due to the fact that the Shan have embraced Buddhism and some animism beliefs have been redefined to fit into new religious context.
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Within a week, four recent interviews, three with Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) top negotiators and one with union parliamentarian, U Hla Swe, who has attended the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) meeting in Rangoon, would likely be a barometer, indicating which way the political wind is blowing and whether the ongoing peace process will be stalled altogether.
The first interview is with the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) leader, General Gun Maw, who is also a top NCCT peace negotiator. He said that during the peace talks, from September 22 to 26, although it was agreed to tackle the issue of troops deployment on both sides, the government said that it would take on the issue at a later date. And now the military has demanded that the KIA Battalion 6 stationed near Hpakant's jade mines to move out, on the grounds that its troopers were demanding taxes from the mining companies. However, the KIA was told to hold its ground by the headquarters. This stance was again confirmed by RFA report on 20 October.
When asked, by the DVB on 18 October, what General Gun Maw would like to comment on the government demand of KIA troops to move out, during this ongoing period of peace talks with the NCCT, he said: "The situation makes us think about it. The KIO central committee assess the issue this morning (October 17). During the NCCT and UPWC meeting, the military refused to discuss about troops deployment. Actually, after rejecting to talk about the agreement on troops withdrawal and code of conduct, it is giving ultimatum that the KIA Battalion 6 moves out, which make us think if the government has changed its mind."
He further said: "In our view, in order to move forward in peace process, problems need to be resolved. Now the example of solving problem with the DKBA is not correct. Again, the example of solving problem with the Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) is not right. The example of solving problem with our KIA is also not adequate. We see that solving the problems through military means is not quite appropriate."
SHAN reported on 19 October that while a group of government delegates led by U Thein Zaw and representatives of SSPP/SSA were meeting at the North-eastern Regional Command based in Lashio (Northern Shan State) on 18th October 2014, the Burma Army was sending in troop reinforcements to SSPP/SSA areas.
On 2 October said that Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Burma Army ordered to attack SSPP/SSA base of Ta Pha Sawng and other outposts in Kehsi Township. It is said the offensive, with some 1,000 Burma Army troops, was due to the SSA refusal to withdraw from the said base, which the Burma Army has been demanding to evacuate.
The second interview is with Nai Han Thar or Nai Hong Sar, New Mon State Party (NMSP) Chief and NCCT top negotiator. In a video interview with the DVB, on 18 October, he pointed out the backsliding situation of the peace process, due to the government offensives, on the heels of the failed or unsuccessful September peace negotiation, with heavy armed clashes in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Mon States. The government troops have been on aggressive moves against the KIA, Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), SSPP/SSA and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).
He particularly stressed that the military, which is part of the Union Peacemaking Work committee (UPWC), rejected the terms of "federal union, federal army formation and rights of self-determination". During the previous round of peace talks in August, the said terms were already agreed to be discussed, during the phase of political dialogue. But the military made an about-turn with the agreement, demanding to add "according to the current existing law" in front of the "rights of self-determination". Nai Hong Sar said that this would mean the acceptance of the military-drawn 2008 Constitution, which is out of question. Apart from rejecting the word "federal", the military also like to change the word "federal army formation" to "union army issue", buttressing it with the argument that the Burma Army or Tatmadaw is already a union army, employing many ethnic groups residing within the country. On top of that, the military also asked that the words "revolution" should be taken out of the context, which earlier has been agreed to be used in the ceasefire agreement text, except on the front cover. The NCCT argues that, in order to uphold its dignity, it has to differentiate with the other armed groups that are either Border Guard Force (BGF), government militias or drug trafficking gangs.
The third interview is conducted by Mizzima, on 18 October, with Hkun Okker, Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) patron and NCCT top negotiator. He said: " We cannot make any concession more in our discussion with the government. It depends on how much the government could make concession and adjustment."
The fourth interview is the union parliamentarian U Hla Swe with DVB, on 18 October. He has attended a meeting dubbed "Internal Peace Process and the Role of Parliament", held at Max hotel, in Rangoon by the MPC. According to the explanation of the MPC officials, he said. "They discussed that it has not reached the political discussion phase and are of the opinion that the peace process will go beyond 2015 and proceed well into 2016. At the end, political process will be debated and discussed within the parliament. Finally, political dialogue will be decided by the parliament. One cannot disregard the parliament and it will take the leading role in the peace process."
Accordingly, RFA report on 20 October said that the MPC officials and the parliamentarians attending the meeting have agreed to table the MPC's six steps peace process procedure, at the parliament, for approval.
This piece of news has to be read together with the SHAN report of 14 October. SHAN writes: “The situation is such the President was said to have given a deadline: Finalization of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft by 30 October or he’ll have to consider “Plan B.”
And by mentioning “Plan B”, the President is indicating to implement the “Open Book” strategy or way of doing things, where parties could sign NCA individually at their convenience and not necessarily doing it together. Of course, this is a far cry from nationwide ceasefire and a total loss of face, besides losing the promised international development aids, which would follow only after the signing of the NCA.
Another political facet is that the President and his top negotiator, U Aung Min, have spelled out their real demand that the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO) must give in to the military-drawn 2008 Constitution, which is exactly a non-starter. All the non-Burman ethnic nationalities have been demanding the amendment or rewriting the constitution to be in line with their aspirations of equality, democracy and rights of self-determination, anchored in a real federal union. This “constitutional crisis” has been plaguing the country for decades and coercively pushing to make the EAO accept it is like declaring an all out war on them.
Summing up the whole situation, the military offensives and tension created by the Burma Army is designed to derail the peace process, so that the supremacy position of the military could be maintained. It is now clear that military is acting on the directive of the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), which is headed by the President and military top brass. In other words, the image of President being a reformist and the military seen as hard-liner has been totally shattered. In other words, the government, parliament and the military are all under one blanket.
Hopefully, this senseless heightening of the armed conflict and poverty of wisdom and lack of accommodation won't last too long, so that normalcy could return to this deeply divided society.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor
Chiang Mai University, Thailand
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While a group of government delegates led by U Thein Zaw and representatives of SSPP/SSA were meeting at the North-eastern Regional Command based in Lashio (Northern Shan State) on 18th October 2014, the Burma Army was sending in troop reinforcements to SSPP/SSA areas.
Local sources say the Burma Army was reinforcing their troops in SSPP/SSA areas while the Vice-Chairman of the Union Peace-making Work Committee U Thein Zaw, Northeastern Regional Military Commander General Aung Soe, Eastern-central commander General Ko Ko Naing and a group led by SSPP/SSA General Secretary Sao Khun Sai were meeting in Lashio on 18th October, 2014.
“They have told us to withdraw our troops from Pan Ze tract, Ke See township. They will tell us the same thing at their meeting in Lashio. They have been reinforcing their troops to give us pressure. If we don’t withdraw our troops, they said they would use force to attack. There were six fully loaded military trucks from Lashio and several military trucks from the Military Operations Commands (MOC, or Sa Ka Kha) 2,” said one of the SSPP/SSA communication officers.
A resident of Tangyan said that, at least five loaded Burma Army military trucks were heading to Loi-lang, Tangyan township.
The Burma Army have told SSPP/SSA to withdraw their troops and bases from the areas of Pan Ze tract in Ke See township, and Nam Si Zeng and Loi-lang areas in Tangyan township, northern Shan State.
Since a union level ceasefire agreement between the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army and the Naypyitaw government was signed in January, 2012, it has happened repeatedly that the Burma Army sent in reinforcements and occupied SSPP/SSA areas while the government and SSPP/SSA delegates were meeting. Since the signing of the ceasefire agreement, there have been hundreds of clashes between the Government and the SSPP/SSA.
- · Demarcation of ceasefire territory (which is a UPWC proposal. “Does it mean we keep on fighting outside it?” asked an NCCT official)
- · Replacing of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) before political settlement instead of after, as agreed earlier by the UPWC. (I have yet to hear the NCCT asking why the UPWC had a sudden change of mind)
- · The UPWC also had another change of mind. Previously it had agreed that the NCA would be ratified by the union legislature. But now it is suggesting “submission of the NCA to the union legislature for ratification” instead, as earlier wording could have been considered too presumptuous by the legislature. Again I have yet to hear how then we can be sure that it will be ratified despite using an unassuming wording.