Zarni, at the launch of International Pepsi boycott campaign, Chapel Hill, N. Carolina, 27 October 1995

At the London School of Economic "Rule of Law Roundtable", 16 June 2012

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Drafting the Oslo Communique calling for the end to Myanmar's Rohingya Genocide, Voksanaasen, Oslo, 27 May 2015

Giving the Annual Owen M. Kupferschmid Lecture at the Holocaust and Human Rights Project, Boston College Law School, 13 Apr 2015

Myanmar Nazi monk Wirathu, TIME Magazine's"Face of Buddhist Terror" - Wirathu, plots again to stir up Islamophobic violence against the Muslims and the Rohingya



Myanmar's "Nazi monk" Wirathu (and networks), plot to unleash new Islamophobic waves of violence against Myanmar's Muslims and Rohingya.

Watch this 5-minutes clip portraying men with beards and/or Indian physical features as rapists and murderers - posted on Wirathu's site. 

The ultimate goal is to destabilize the society with the aim of preventing the election winning NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi from bringing any meaningful change. 

Meaningful change involves significant reduction in the military's economic, institutional and political control of the country.

The underlying and deep-seated anti-Muslim racism is there for political mobilization. 

Themselves led by anti-Muslim racist generals and ex-military officers, the military-controlled state organs - especially the entire security sector and the vast general administration - will continue to provide the anti-Muslim attackers and hate-monkers a blanket impunity while leaving Muslim minorities - including the Rohingya extremely vulnerable to all kinds of organized-mob attacks including arsons and further displacement. 

The weak discourse of human rights and democracy - which has not really been widely internalized even by the NLD leaders and former student activists themselves such as "88 generation group" - will be overwhelmed by another wave of crude, but powerful mass racism.

Watch this 5-minutes clip portraying men with beards and/or Indian physical features as rapists and murderers.

“သီတာေထြးဇာတ္လမ္း လာေတာ့မည္”====================== “အမည္းေရာင္ ေန႔စြဲမ်ား”အမည္နဲ႔ ရုိက္ကူးထားတာပါ။ သီတာေထြးအျဖစ္ - မ...
Posted by Wira Thu on Saturday, January 30, 2016



Myanmar: A Rich Country with People on the Verge of Policy-induced Starvation

The Rohingya Muslims are Myanmar's most malnourished. It is policy-induced systematic deprivation - a slow genocide. 

"The term ‘slow genocide’ is an appropriate fit here because you deny people health care and nutritional opportunities. You deny people opportunities to work and earn an income and make a living to feed themselves and their family members. You deny people having medical care and expel the only organization (s) providing health care like Medicine San Frontiers, and don't allow them to return. That is killing people. And in that sense it is a genocide. It is a slow genocide. It's not like Rwanda. It's not like Khmer Rouge's Cambodia. It's not even like what exactly happened in Nazi Germany.... It is institutionalized killing." 

- Professor Amartya Sen, the world's foremost authority on famines and Nobel Prize winner in economics, The Conference on the Rohingya, Harvard University, 4 Nov 2014. 

Watch him here:


Watch live streaming video from webshare at livestream.com

From the Reuters' story:

"The worst malnutrition in Myanmar is in the border with Bangladesh in the northern part of Rakhine State. The average stunting rate for under-5 children in Myanmar is about 34 percent, meaning one in every three children under five years is too short for his age. On the border with Bangladesh that is over 50 percent. (Editor's note: Northern Rakhine State's Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships are home to the roughly 1 million-strong stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.)" 


A family cooks their lunch near a tree house, in Kan Gyi village, Shwe Taung Yan township in Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

YANGON, Jan 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations' its needs until the end of 2016. The organisation provided food and cash assistance to 1.2 million people in 2015, including victims 

Dom Scalpelli, WFP country director in Myanmar, spoke to Myanmar Now, an independent news agency supported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, about what the shortfall means and why Myanmar is still food insecure. 

Q: How concerned are you about the funding shortfall? Or is this part of a long-standing problem? 

A: The funding shortfalls are a common part of our business, unfortunately. It's like running a fire department without having the money for the trucks or the petrol in the trucks. Imagine, each time there's a fire, you need to quickly run around the city and ask for money. 

This is a bit like what happens when a flood happens in Myanmar or conflicts displaced people in Shan State. If it's a new emergency we typically have to run after new money. It's a constant challenge. 

Q: What would the shortfall mean in terms of humanitarian assistance? 

A: We have enough food for the internally displaced people (IDPs) to support them fully until April. (After that) we start to run into some problems. 

When there is a funding shortfall, we have to prioritise life-saving activities. This means nutritional support to malnourished babies and children under 5 years old, and pregnant and nursing mothers, assistance to the internally displaced people, especially those that are confined to camps in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states, and the flood- and landslide-affected people. 

Things like the daily school meals programme - nutritious snacks to about 230,000 children in primary and pre-schools in very food insecure areas to encourage parents to keep sending their children to school - have to be put as a second priority. Same for other development programmes like rehabilitating community infrastructure like dams, fish ponds, roads and bridges, although it helps to prevent or mitigate future shocks and builds resilience. 

Q: Myanmar is a food surplus country, and yet a lot of communities, especially in ethnic areas, are food insecure, leading to malnourished people and children. Why is that? 

A: It's true that Myanmar is a rice surplus country and rice is often equated with food. But rice is not in and of itself nutritious in the way it is eaten here. Not many people eat brown rice. It has to be as white as white, and that means all the nourishment is 

Food insecurity is common among disadvantaged populations, like the landless, smallholders and minority ethnic groups, due to limited or inequitable access to land and resources, poor agriculture conditions and low resilience. Most farmers only have access to very small areas of land. This limits their ability to cultivate sufficient amount of staple food or vegetables for their household needs during the whole year. 

Q: What are some of the most food-insecure places in Myanmar and why? 

A: Border areas and the central dry zone are the most food insecure areas in Myanmar. In Chin, it is remoteness and isolation, and lack of job opportunities and arable land. In Rakhine it is movement restriction and lack of access to job opportunities and land, for all communities in Rakhine. For the central dry zone, it's poor soil and agriculture techniques. 

Q: How bad is malnutrition in Myanmar? 

A: Myanmar is still the third-most malnourished country in Southeast Asia after Timor-Leste and Cambodia. There's no reason for it. It’s a country that's rich in resources. It's just access to these resources, education and behavioural issues, and sometimes cultural practices that need to change to promote better nutrition. 

The worst malnutrition in Myanmar is in the border with Bangladesh in the northern part of Rakhine State. The average stunting rate for under-5 children in Myanmar is about 34 percent, meaning one in every three children under five years is too short for his age. On the border with Bangladesh that is over 50 percent. (Editor's note: Northern Rakhine State's Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships are home to the roughly 1 million-strong stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.) 

There were many short people in Japan after the war but now if you go to Tokyo there are lots of tall people. It really only takes a generation to break this cycle. 

Q: Malnutrition can have permanent impacts too, right? 

A: Yes. If a malnourished girl - someone in a food-insecure area here in Myanmar - typically gives birth at too early an age, chances are the child will be malnourished with some sort of deficiency, physical or mental. 

If the baby doesn't have enough nutrition for the first 1,000 days then the brain will not develop properly. Think about multiplying that across the whole population. There are studies in countries where the economic loss can be, on average, 11 percent of the GDP just because its babies are malnourished. That cycle can be broken. If, while she's pregnant, she starts to consume adequate, nutritious food and good, clean water etc, and continues to breastfeed exclusively after birth and gives nutritious food afterwards, the child can grow up healthily. And the longer a girl stays in school the more likely she'll give birth at a later age, meaning healthier babies, and the more likely she'll space her babies. 

Q: What can be done to address the problem? What should the new government do? 

A: We've just started with the government of Myanmar and a few other organisations to produce fortified foods. We want to try and put (that) on to the market and for us to be able to purchase it for our nutrition programmes. I understand Myanmar is the largest per capita rice consumer in the world, with more than 200 kilograms per person per year. If people are consuming that much of a certain food and it's fortified, that would go a long way to helping. 

Myanmar government launched the Zero Hunger Challenge in late 2014. It’s a first step. It's a global initiative and there’s a draft action plan on nutrition and food security, with clear responsibilities so that by 2025 there won’t be any stunted children in Myanmar.

Can Myanmar Generals be Trusted as Parners in Nation Building?

The trustworthiness of Myanmar or Burmese/Bama leaders 

The record of Myanmar leaders, both civilian politicians and generals, since 4 January 1948 speaks volume. 

Here are some devastatingly consequential episodes that have major impact on the development of the multiethnic country.

Story I: Distorting the Foundational Agreement of Burma by building, constitutionally, a Unitary State. 

1) Aung San signed the Panglong (Pin-lone in Burmese) Agreement to build the post-British Burma as a Federal Union of Burma, the conceptual and political foundation of the country patched together out of disparate and warring ethnic feudal political and cultural systems - Shan, Kachin, Chin and Karenni (Mon and Rakhine with their previous dynastic seats of power were excluded).

2) Aung San was killed on 19 July 1947. 

3) Despite the lipservice the Bama leaders paid to the spirit of Panglong (federalist union of equal partners among the signers of the Pang Long Treaty) the Bama politicians went ahead and drafted the Constitution of 1947 with the Unitary State - where power was concentrated in the hands of the Bama-controlled government of PM U Nu. 

Story II : Smashing completely even the Discourse of Federalism and blatantly building a Bama-racist military state 

1) 2 March 1962

General Ne Win overthrew even U Nu's nominally federal government, abolished the Constitution and absolved the bi-cameral parliament as the Shan led the Federalist Movement to reform the State along the original federalist lines. 

Story III: Using the Rohingya as a proxy against the secession-minded Rakhine and then Launching a Slow Genocide against the Rohingya 

1) July 1961, under the Caretaker Government of General Ne Win, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Tatmadaw (the Army, its most powerful wing) Brigadier Aung Gyi led the Ministry of Defence's efforts to end the Rohingya Mujahideen armed revolt, persauded the Rohingya leaders to surrender in exchange for full recognition of their ethnic identity, and opportunities to participate in the political affairs of the country. (In those days there were less than 6 brigadiers, no inflation of general titles, and half-Chinese and entrepreneurial, Aung Gyi was Ne Win's most capable deputy, who set up the original economic foundation for the whole Armed Forces). 

2) in 1963, a year after the military coup, Ne Win fired Aung Gyi and proceeded, in due course, to turn against the Rohingya - whom the Ministry of Defence was using as a counter or proxy against the nationalistic, secession-minded Rakhine.

3) today the military has succeeded in halving the Rohingya population - the Rohingya in diaspora are about the same size as those who remain in the vast open prison of Rakhine State where they are subject to a slow genocide sponsored and directed by the military-controlled state, with the collaboration of the Rakhine racists. (Ironic that the oppressed Rakhine would prefer to beat up and destroy the Rohingya in their state while it is the Bama and the Bama military that are sucking then dry, economically). 

Story IV: Making bi-lateral Ceasefire Deals and then provoking the ceasefire groups to war, in the early 1990's

1) Emboldened by the self-destruction of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) - then based in the War territory and manned by the Wa in the rank and file, and engulfed by the popular revolt by the Bama majority in the "proper Burma", ex-General Ne Win instructed his chief of intelligence - Brigadier Khin Nyunt to launch a ceasefire initiatives with armed minorities in the strategic but peripheral regions.

Khin Nyunt succeeded in reaching about 2 dozen ceasefire deals while splintering the strongest Karen National Union. 

The Kachin Independence Organization even had a signed ceasefire deal - which in due course proved worthless - less than the use value of a toilet paper roll, literally. 

2) on 18 October 2004, General Khin Nyunt was sacked unceremoniously for his defiance against Than Shwe's order to keep the nominal Prime Minister post and give up his power base - military intelligence; he was arrested as he stepped out of the airplane at Yangon Airport.

In the years that followed the "Architect of Ceasefires" was ousted the military leaders moved to tighten the vice of control and pressure over the armed ethnic minorty ceasefire groups. The result is the renewed civil wars in the states of Kachin, Karenni, Shan, as well as Palaung, Kokant territories, etc. - and military tensions in the two War regions. 

3). In 2012, when Thein Sein occupied his Yo-Yo Preisdency the military launched the attack on the Kokant - whom they had granted Special Administrative Zone.

4) that was followed in 2013 by the Burmese military's attack on the Kachin Independence Army - which it assumed could be easily defeated like the Kokant. 

5) there are more fightings today than there were in 1992, and war refugees now number over 100,000.

Story V: Coopt the NLD within the framework of the Constitution of 2008 - written to perpetuate the military's unquestioned domination with the veneer of civilian democracy. 

1) 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi decided to play ball with the military leaders on the latter's turf. 

2) 2015, she beat the military - as expected - in their own game.

3) after the NLD's resounding victory, the military leaders moved to strip the President - which will be picked by Aung San Suu Kyi - of any voting rights in the governing National Defence and Security Council: to ensure that the military has the majority on this powerful body. 

4) the-soon-to-be history ex-General and President Thein Sein instructed his men to expand the military's powers by snatching the Immigration and Manpower Ministry. 

And you still think these Bama generals are trust-worthy partners in nation-building. 

Good luck! You will need a great deal of it.

The Tragedy of Myanmar Generals Playing Nation-builders and Peace-Makers



Myanmar Tatmadaw Leaders have long proven to be un-fit psychologically or intellectually to be successful nation-builders. Myanmar's military-led democratic transition will not go anywhere other than a place I have long dubbed "twilight zone" - neither outrightly totalitarian nor remotely democratic. 

Here is a case in point. 

You can take a man out of the Myanmar Army, but you can't take the army out of the man. 

The case of NLD U Win Htein (ex-captain from Defence Services Academy - In-Take-5, class of 1962 and former Personal Staff Officer to the Defence Minister, now NLD Vice-Chair and ex-General Tin Oo). 

A lot of people complain about the NLD U Win Htein saluting Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing (DSA-19) while the latter didn't seem to reciprocate. 

Here in the background, the military intelligence chief Lt-General Mya Tun Oo (DSA-25) was seen, standing by the entrance door, having ushered in U Win Htein and 3 other male NLD Transition Team members who accompanied the NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi. 

There are 3 institutions which are totalitarian in essence and operation: 

1) the armed forces (starting with training depots and officers' schools and academies); 
2) mental wards - especially the old era "mental asylums"; and 
3) prisons. 

In these places the institutions have total and complete control over the life, identity and movement of the inmates - cadets, madmen and -women and prisoners. 

Of the three, the officers' training schools and military academies are the most intensely Pavlovian. 

Young post-teenage boys are whipped through 3-4 years of intense conditioning, both mentally and physically: with the end result being the cookie-cutter humans. 

Their physical movements are more or less uniform. 

Their mental reactions to certain external stimuli are also more or less the same. They don't own themselves; their time, routines, mindset, etc. are "owned" by the Army. 

Years of conditioned through rewards and punishments have produced automatic responses. 

U Win Htein, relatively speaking, is an honourable man who risked his life standing up for the Burmese Muslims of his native town - Meikhtila. He also spent more than a decade behind jail - as a political prisoner in Mingyan Prison. 

But at the same time, he is too enamoured with the State power, notions of authorities, and authoritarian - as evidenced in the way he treated young Burmese reporters. 

He was a friend of my late uncle, who was from the Defense Services Academy In-take-6, a year junior to Win Htein. In those days (in the early 1960's), the total number of cadets in each graduating class was not more than 32. All these overlapping classes, the cadets all knew one another well. 

My uncle broke into tears when he had to resign from his Major post from Burma Air Force to switch over to the civil aviation and later join the two teams of VIP pilots for the dictator Ne Win, in the late 1970's. 

He died an extremely docile, and unquestioning ex-Air Force Major who thought my revolt against the military state was treasonous. 

Sad - how otherwise intelligent and good Burmese men throw their lives away, having undergone this totalitarian experience as cadets. 

Very exceptional ex-officers are able to un-learn their Pavlovian military training. But they are an exception to the rule. They don't survive in the Armed Forces. 

Active, independent and questioning minds - the type of minds that are needed for a highly complex mission of nation-building do not thrive within the army's hierarchy. 

That's why, I have absolutely no confidence or hold no hopes that the military-led democratic transition will go anywhere other than a place I have long dubbed "twilight zone" - neither outrightly totalitarian nor remotely democratic. 

In the Burmese society, the ex-officers are often referred to as Nat-O-Gwe - broken pieces of spirit pots (they cannot be reused in any other contexts or for purposes than the ones they are intended for: the military affairs). 

When men of zeal, without suitable orientation or experience, arrogate to themselves the tasks they are utterly un-qualified then the nation and the people are in big trouble.

Myanmar under the rule of the Tatmadaw leader or Burmese generals over the last 53 years is a textbook example of how tragic and devastating the consequences have been when Burmese generals fancy themselves as nation-builders and play the fantasies. Knowing these men, their mentality and their capacity, I shudder to contemplate the future of my country.

Ending the Horror of Myanmar’s Abuse of Muslims

Undernourished Rohingya are a common sight at concentration camps in Sittwe, Myanmar. Credit: Tomas Munita for The New York Times

By Editorial Board
January 25, 2016

The government of Myanmar’s departing president, Thein Sein, oversaw the systematic persecution of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority — a human rights debacle that one study has described as genocide. Mr. Thein Sein also signed four bills into law last year regulating interfaith marriage, birth spacing and religious conversion that clearly targeted Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

By the hundreds of thousands, Muslims in Myanmar have been stripped of their citizenship, sent to concentration camps where they are deprived of basic medical care, jobs and even food, and held prisoners in villages they are not allowed to leave. Thousands more have fled the camps by risking their lives at the hands of criminal syndicates that traffic them to Malaysia and Bangladesh or force them into servitude on fishing boats.

The question now is what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will do to ease their plight. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the revered winner of the Nobel Peace Prize whose National League for Democracy party won a majority of seats in Parliament in November, was herself persecuted and held under house arrest. But during the campaign she remained stubbornly silent on the fate of the Rohingya, clearly a political calculation in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment had been whipped to a fever pitch.

Now that her party has won, as Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out at a meeting with leaders in Myanmar on Jan. 18, there is an urgent need to make sure the new government respects the human rights of all people when it takes power in March. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is already taking action to end festering conflicts between Myanmar’s military and armed ethnic groups, and promises to strengthen fragile democratic institutions and bring economic opportunity to Myanmar’s people.

But, as Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in a column in The Times, these are political challenges, while what has been done to the Rohingya is “a crime against humanity.”

As soon as the political transition is complete, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party must move swiftly to redress discrimination against Myanmar’s Muslims and to end the Rohingya’s terrible plight. This means overturning Mr. Thein Sein’s egregiously discriminatory laws targeting Muslims, restoring citizenship to the Rohingya and other Muslims, allowing the Rohingya to leave the squalid camps to return to their homes and businesses and to travel, and outlawing hate crimes and hate speech toward religious minorities.

Some of the American economic sanctions originally aimed at forcing the military regime to end abuses, loosen its grip and move toward democracy remain in place, prohibiting American companies from doing business with corporations and individuals tied to the generals. They should remain in effect until the new government makes tangible progress on all human rights fronts.

Burma's dissident musician Mun Awng calls for justice for the two Kachin teachers raped and murdered by Myanmar Tatmadaw Troops a year ago, Myanmar Embassy, London, 19 Jan 2016

Burma's dissident musician Mun Awng calls for justice for the two Kachin teachers raped and murdered by Myanmar Tatmadaw Troops a year ago, Myanmar Embassy, London, 19 Jan 2016





Myanmar's another Orwellian moment: Sitagu "monk", Denier of Rohingya cleansing leads"Buddhist Peace Conference"

Myanmar's another Orwellian moment: Sitagu "monk", Denier of Rohingya cleansing leads"Buddhist Peace Conference" 



Dr Zarni's analysis of Myanmar Prisoner Release and Democratic Transition, Impact Program, BBC World News TV, 22 Jan 2016

Dr Zarni's analysis of Myanmar Prisoner Release and Democratic Transition, Impact Program, BBC World News TV, 22 Jan 2016





New Approach Needed for Genuine Peace in Burma

The signing ceremony for a long-sought ceasefire agreement in Naypyidaw on Oct. 15, 2015. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

By Bertil Lintner
January 11, 2016

Everything is looking good as the Burmese government and a number of ethnic armed groups prepare for a political dialog, which is soon to begin. On Oct. 15 last year, eight such groups signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government. Just as many groups did not sign, but the agreement nevertheless “silenced the guns in two thirds of the conflict areas. By strength of forces of the eight signatories, it’s like 80 per cent of the ethnic armed groups.”

That’s the situation in Burma’s conflict areas—if one is to believe what Tin Maung Thann, special adviser to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), said in an interview with Frontier Myanmar, a Rangoon-based magazine, which appeared on its website on December 24. Thant Myint-U, who has served as an adviser to President Thein Sein and the MPC, told Frontier on Jan. 7 that, “Thousands of hours of informal and formal talks have created an atmosphere of familiarity, if not trust, that did not exist before. We have an initial ceasefire agreement whose text has been almost universally agreed, with parliamentary ratification and international recognition.” Other peacemakers have said that the Oct. 15 agreement means that “the train has left the station, others can join later—or be left behind when the political dialog process begins.”

Reality on the ground, however, is entirely different. Almost the entire international and national media have swallowed the notion of “eight armed groups” having signed the agreement—but few have bothered to examine the list of those groups. The Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) is a genuine ethnic rebel group that has been fighting against the government since 1949, and it has an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 armed followers. But it remains bitterly divided over the agreement, which was signed by Gen. Mutu Say Poe, the KNU chairman. But shortly after the signing ceremony in Naypyidaw, two leading members of the KNU, vice president Zipporah Sein and veteran activist David Tharckarbaw, went to the Panghsang headquarters of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s most powerful ethnic force which did not sign the agreement. Since the KNU was a signatory, they came as representatives of the Karen National Defense Organization, the movement’s village defense forces.

Two other Karen groups were among those that signed the October 15 agreement, one being the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the other the KNU-KNLA Peace Council. But the DKBA, which was originally known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, has been, in effect, a government-allied militia since it broke away from the KNU/KNLA in late 1994. Since then, it has attacked and fought against the KNU/KNLA, not the government’s forces.

The DKBA may have 3,000 to 4,000 men in arms, and, thus, could be described as an armed ethnic group although it did not fight against the government. The “Peace Council” is another group that broke away from the KNU/KNLA, but, independent observers assert, it has no more than 50 men in arms. It entered into a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government in 2007, and, according to By Force of Arms, a book written by researcher Paul Keenan, “was then able to sign a number of lucrative logging contracts with Thai companies.”

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), which was among the signatories of the Oct. 15 agreement, may have 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers. But they are based on the Thai border, where, according to a Bangkok-based, independent military analyst, “[it] remains a hostage to Thai security concerns, and to Thai interests in mining, logging and other forms of cross-border trade.” The RCSS calls its armed force “the Shan State Army”, but it should not be confused with the original SSA, which was set up in 1964 and then commanded by Sao Nang Hearn Hkam, the widow of Burma’s first president Sao Shwe Thaike.

The RCSS has an entirely different history. It grew out of the remnants of druglord Khun Sa’s Möng Tai Army (MTA). When he surrendered with most of his men to the Burmese government in January 1996, one of his commanders, Yawd Serk, refused to do so. He resurrected the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA), an older group which he and many other commanders had belonged to before it merged with Khun Sa’s forces in the mid-1980s and it all became the MTA. The “new SURA” later began to call itself “SSA”.

The real SSA, on the other hand, is about 2,000 to 3,000 strong, is active in central and northern Shan State—and did not sign the agreement. Its political wing is called the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), which was set up in 1971, and is closely allied with the UWSA. The SSPP/SSA actually entered into a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government back in September 1989, but in recent years—and months—it has come under heavy attacks by government forces.

The remaining four signatories of the Oct. 15 agreement—apart from the KNU/KNLA, the DKBA, the Peace Council and the RCSS—could not even be described as “armed ethnic groups.” The Pa-O National Liberation Organization is a one-man show led by a person who lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He was left behind when the main Pa-O outfit, the Pa-O National Organization/Army (PNA/PNO) entered into a ceasefire agreement with the government in March 1991.

The Arakan Liberation Party/Army (ALP/ALA) is a tiny group with a handful of followers who have never been active in Arakan State, also known as Rakhine. It was set up in 1972 in KNU-controlled areas on the Thai border where it maintained a small camp at the Karen base of Wangkha until it was overrun by government forces in the mid-1990s. Since then, it has been based in Mae Sot, Thailand.

The ALP/ALA should not be confused with the Arakan Army (AA), a much stronger rebel outfit that has been trained and equipped by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the north. The AA has over the past year participated in battles in Kokang in northeastern Shan State and also launched a couple of surprise attacks in Arakan State.

The Chin National Front, which signed the agreement, is a badly factionalized group that has been active on and off in Chin State. But it has never had any armed force to be reckoned with, and Chin State is in any case the only ethnic state in Burma which has not had any widespread ethnic insurgency. This is usually attributed to the fact that the Chin speak more than 30 mutually unintelligible dialects and, therefore, lack the ethnic cohesion that is prevalent in other ethnic areas.

The last signatory is the All-Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), which was set up at various places along Burma’s borders with its neighbors after the 1988 uprising. About a decade later, the main force gave up its armed struggle and began concentrating on information and propaganda. A remnant of the ABSDF fought on alongside the KIA in Kachin State, where it is still based. Its leaders were among the signatories in Naypyidaw in October. They have, however, vowed to fight if they are attacked, which may happen as the KIA did not sign the agreement.

Thus, it was as far from a genuine, nationwide ceasefire agreement—which it purported to be—as one could possibly get. Rather, the grand ceremony and the agreement that was signed in Naypyidaw on Oct. 15 should be seen as a face-saving gesture of the government-appointed MPC—and of the European Union, Norway and other donors, which have poured millions of Euros into the outfit, as well. After several years of talks, the MPC needed something to show international donors to justify what in reality amounts to a dismal failure to achieve peace across the country—and the international community was prepared to play along with the charade. Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the event was described by one observer of the political scene in Burma as reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland’s “Mad Hatters Tea Party.”

Among the groups that did not sign it are the country’s most powerful rebel armies, the 20,000-strong UWSA, its ally SSPP/SSA, the 5,000 to 6,000 strong and battle-hardened KIA with its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), a Palaung group with at least 3,000 men in arms.

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Kokang, a district in northeastern Shan State inhabited by ethnic Chinese, also did not sign, nor did the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), which controls the Möng La region north of Kengtung. The MNDAA may have between 1,000 and 2,000 men in arms and the NDAA-ESS twice that number.

The UWSA, the MNDAA and the NDAA-ESS emerged from the collapse of the once powerful Communist Party Burma in 1989. Since then, especially the UWSA, has been able to procure from China modern weaponry, including surface-to-air missiles, mortars, artillery and even light tanks. The group may also have a limited number of transport helicopters, and it has been supplying not only the SSA but also the MNDAA and the TNLA with light weapons such as automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles.

As for the so-called “peace process,” Burma’s decades-long civil war has actually intensified since ex-general Thein Sein became the country’s president in March 2011 and, in November 2012, set up the MPC. The KIA, which had entered into a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1994, came under heavy attack in June 2011. The offensive against the KIA culminated in December 2012-January 2013, when the government’s army for the first time used Mi-35, Russian-supplied Hind helicopter gunships and Chinese-made Karakoram attack aircraft against the rebels.

In early 2015, fierce battles were fought between government forces and the MNDAA in Kokang—and this time the air strikes were much heavier and more intense than they were in Kachin State in 2012-2013. On May 20, 2015, military analysts at IHS/Jane’s said about the conflict in Kokang that the government’s army had launched “the largest war since Myanmar’s [Burma’s] independence.”

Overall, Burma has not seen such heavy battles in Shan and Kachin states since the 1980s. And before and after the Oct. 15 agreement was signed, heavy fighting raged around the SSPP/SSA headquarters at Wan Hai in central Shan State. That seems to have died down in recent months, but fighting has once again flared up in Palaung-inhabited areas in northern Shan State, where the TNLA has come under attack. RCSS troops have also attacked the TNLA, underscoring the fact that the Oct. 15 agreement caused not only splits within some of the signatories but also between groups that did and did not sign it.

On Jan. 7, more than 120 civil society organizations want the government to put on hold its “peace dialogue” until all the warring factions can be brought to the negotiating table. At the same time, the UWSA called the upcoming conference “meaningless” because it will exclude most important ethnic armed groups in the country.

Seen in a broader perspective, the entire “peace process” is flawed because the government wants to put the cart before the horse by insisting on an agreement—the one signed on Oct. 15—before any political issues have even been discussed. Details for how that ceasefire shall be implemented and monitored on the ground will also be discussed after they sign the agreement, not before.

In any normal peace process, a ceasefire can be announced at any time. Warring parties freeze their positions, and the ceasefire is then monitored on the ground. After that, talks are held about political issues, and, when a consensus has been reached, an agreement that will settle conflict and address the reasons for it can be signed. In short, it is a messy and upside-down process that can hardly lead to a lasting peace, nor solve the ethnic conflicts that caused the war to break out in the first place.

It is evident that the new government that takes over after Thein Sein’s would need to adopt an entirely different approach to the question of establishing peace in a country that had been torn apart by civil war for decades. As a first step to bring this tragedy to an end, the MPC should be dissolved, a new, more enlightened entity appointed—and international donors made to realize that they have to change their attitudes as well. So far, it has only been a total waste of money, and the Thein Sein government’s “peace process” has created more problems that it has solved.

Suu Kyi govt must not continue state persecution of Rohingya

Rohingya children pose for the camera at the Kutupalong refugee camp May 31, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman

By Maung Zarni
January 11, 2016

On Tuesday, Burma’s lame duck government led by President Thein Sein and backed by the country’s military is holding a national conference ostensibly to foster peace. The dialogue will bring together the Burmese military and the representatives of the eight ethnic armed groups that agreed to the partial ceasefire agreement in October.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi – which will come to power at the end of March – has officially declared that “establishing peace with minorities will be the single most important goal” for her government.

However, neither the most powerful stakeholder, namely the military, nor Suu Kyi’s NLD will address the need to end the systematic persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority living in their own ancestral borderlands between Burma and Bangladesh, whose persecution has repeatedly hit international news headlines.

Already, her top deputy on the Central Executive Committee, the ex-army officer Win Htein, has made it clear that ending the suffering of the Rohingya – estimated at 1.33 million in western Arakan State and an equal number in diaspora – is not on the party’s agenda.

By all indications so far Suu Kyi’s government shares with the Burmese military a racist view towards the Rohingya Muslims. They will most likely continue the current policies of systematic persecution and discrimination.

Their shared indifference is deeply disturbing in light of the growing consensus worldwide about the genocidal nature of Burma’s abuse and persecution of the Rohingya.

Over the last several years, academic and non-academic researchers have raised a very real possibility that Burma is, as a matter of national policy, engaged in initiatives designed to destroy the Rohingya as an ethnic people. Among the organisations that have sounded this alarm are Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ASEAN Parliamentary Human Rights Caucus, Al Jazeera Investigative Unit, Yale University’s Human Rights Law Clinic and the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London.

Suu Kyi’s studied silience 

Noteworthy is the fact that Suu Kyi’s culpability in the state-directed persecution of the Rohingya goes beyond her silence, which has been roundly criticised. Suu Kyi routinely offers Islamophobia as an explanation, and denies any systematic wrong-doing while dismissing the genocide and ethnic cleansing accusation as simply “exaggerations”.

Never mind that seven of her fellow Nobel Peace laureates including Mairead Maguire and Desmond Tutu, as well as her long-time supporters such as George Soros and Amartya Sen, have come to view Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya as nothing less than a slow genocide.

George Soros, who escaped the Nazi-occupied Budapest as a Jewish teenager in 1944, took the trouble of visiting a Rohingya neighbourhood in Arakan State a year ago. After having witnessed the conditions in which the Rohingya were forced to live, Soros was moved to draw what he called an “alarming” parallel between the Nazi genocide and Burma’s Rohingya persecution. Last year Ms Suu Kyi also travelled to Arakan State to gather Arakan votes for her party. She did not bother to pay a brief if unpopular visit, out of compassion, to the Rohingya refugee camps and “Rohingya ghettos”, as Soros put it, in the vicinity. Her calculated avoidance goes back to the beginning of the anti-Rohingya mass violence in June 2012.

As a Burmese researcher and activist I joined Suu Kyi on the Rule of Law Roundtable at the London School of Economics (LSE) on her first visit to UK in a quarter century. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, her visit’s official sponsor, informed the panel chair Professor Kaldor that our guest of honour was “in listening mood”, that is, she wasn’t willing to speak on the hottest topic of the day. Only a week or so before the LSE panel, the Rohingya had suffered violence perpetrated by the sword-wielding local Arakan mobs, organised and backed by the state. I was pre-assigned to handle any question about the persecution of the Rohingya as she maintained the studied silence on the grave and domestically unpopular subject.

A year later, on her second visit to UK in 2013, Suu Kyi was put on the spot on Radio Four by the host Mishal Hussain who front loaded the violence against Muslim Rohingya. Suu Kyi actively denied that Burma was committing “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya. In her own words: “No, no, it’s not ethnic cleansing. It’s a new problem…these problems arose last year. This is due to fear of both sides (Buddhists and Muslims). I think you will accept that there is a perception that Muslim power, global Muslim power, is very great. Certainly, that’s a perception in many parts of the world, and in our country too…”

On the eve of Burma’s elections, which her party won a crushing landslide against the incumbent military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, her position shifted decidedly from a calculated silence to an active dismissal of any systematic wrong-doing. Human Rights Watch refers to what is happening to the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing. The Queen Mary University and Yale Law school researchers call it genocide.

In a rare press conference held at her residence in Rangoon on 5 November, Anthony Kuhn of US National Public Radio asked her about the accusations of mass atrocities. She responded by saying, “Don’t exaggerate the problems [of the Rohingya]” while proceeding to echo the government’s portrayal of the Rohingya as simply “from Bangladesh”.

In her rhetoric and lack of action, Suu Kyi has has evidently chosen to ignore a mountain of irrefutable official and historical documentation which backs the Rohingya’s claim to identity, history and citizenship in Burma.

Deep historical ties

In sharp contrast to the official and popular portrayal of the Rohingya as merely the descendants of farm ‘coolies’ imported by the British Raj to develop the fertile wet rice land of Western Burma adjacent to the then East Bengal (or present day Bangladesh), ethno-linguistic fieldwork going back to AD1799 – a quarter century before the British annexation of Western Burma – establishes the Rohingya as an ethnic group of Islamic faith.

The claim of the historical presence of the Rohingya is further reinforced by stone inscriptions from AD 1440 unearthed and interpreted by none other than two of the leading founders of the historical studies of pre-colonial Burma, namely the late Gordon H. Luce and his most distinguished pupil the late Professor Than Tun of Burma Historical Commission.

During the period of British colonial rule (1826-1947), Burma’s pre-colonial ethnic groups with their self-chosen identities were lumped under broad categories informed in part by anthropologists and in part necessitated by the administrative needs of the colonial bureaucracy.

Following the country’s independence from Britain in 1948, the Rohingya reasserted their ethnic identity and historical presence in the borderlands between the new nation-states of Muslim Bangladesh and Buddhist Burma successfully. By 1954, Burma’s national leaders fully embraced them as an ethnic group of the Union of Burma. The Ministry of Defence was directly involved in negotiations with the Rohingya leaders in terms of the state granting the official recognition of Rohingya ethnicity as integral to the Union of Burma.

In 1992, the late Brig. Aung Gyi, the second in command of the Burmese Armed Forces under General Ne Win, recorded in writing his first-hand knowledge of the emergence of the state-recognised official Rohingya ethnic identity.

In those days, the War Office had to pay a very close attention to Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, just like today’s War Office is paying a close attention to the border regions with Thailand. Eventually, the Rohingya warriors (Mujahideens) gave up their armed rebellion. In the discussion that ensued during the Surrender Ceremony, they made a specific request to the army representatives: that we don’t address or refer to their people in ways they consider racist and derogatory. Specifically, the Rohingya leaders asked us not to call the Rohingya [pejorative terms such as] ‘Khaw Taw’, nor ‘Bengali’, nor ‘Chittagonian Kalar’ nor ‘Arakan Muslims’. Instead they said their preferred and self-referential ethnic name was the Arabic word Rohingya (meaning the Easterners – east of the old Bengal). In terms of the administrative name of their region, they proposed a completely secular term devoid of any religious connotations, namely Mayu after the river Mayu. 

The War Office agreed to organise the two majority Rohingya towns – Buthidaung and Maungdaw – into a single administrative district which was to be directly commanded by the War office (Ministry of Defence) as part of the Tatmadaw’s wider strategic border affairs paradigm (where ‘development’ was pursued as a tool to combat ethnic rebellions). This arrangement by the War Office was subsequently officially approved by the Cabinet, thus having given birth to the Administrative Region of Mayu and resulting in the official recognition of the Rohingya as an ethnic group and name.

By May 1961, Burma government established a Rohingya language service on the country’s sole national radio station and by 1964, the Rohingya were given an official entry in the government’s Burma Encyclopedia, recognising the two Northern Arakan townships as the predominantly Rohingya ancestral pocket.

Betrayed by the Junta

After the military coup in 1962, General Ne Win, the deceased founder of the country’s former junta, turned on the commercially successful segment of Burmese society made up of people of Indian sub-continental origin. Over 300,000 Burmese of Indian origin were effectively expelled from the country. Han Chinese too suffered. The new military state confiscated their businesses, properties and bank accounts. Nothing was spared. A decade later, Uganda’s Idi Amin replicated the Burmese military’s model of dealing with successful ‘foreigners’ as he expelled the entire community of people with Indian sub-continent ancestry.

This is what has been happening to the Rohingya of Burma albeit at an excruciating slow pace since the late 1970s, when the military leaders decided to frame the Rohingya – and Muslims – as a threat to national security, and proceeded to devise strategies of disenfranchising them and destroying their economic and legal foundations. Campaigns of physical violence, mass arrest and de-ethnicisation have been coupled with the enactment of laws and regulations which have encoded Rohingya and Muslim persecution.

The Rohingya have borne the brunt of this racist campaign centrally developed and directed simply because all of the different types of Muslim communities, the Rohingya are the only one with a brief history of armed revolt against the newly independent state of Burma, having their own ancestral geographic pocket adjacent to one of the most populous Muslim countries – Bangladesh.

In October 2012, the second bout of organised mass violence, arson and looting drove over 140,000 Rohingya from some of the most commercially lucrative neighbourhoods in Arakan State. While these Rohingya languish in internments surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by security troops, their old neighbourhoods – burned to ashes in a matter of days – have been marked for the development of Special Economic Zone. That joint venture between the Burmese military and a Chinese corporation is worth US$17 billion.

The popular misperception manufactured and encouraged by the government views the Rohingya as greedy, desperate ‘Bengali’ economic migrants, or ‘leeches’ ‘parasites’ ‘ogres’, from across the western borders. The reality for the Rohingya is that the Burmese government has effectively completed the process of not only stripping them of official and historical ethnicity and legal citizenship but of successfully destroying the economic and social foundations to sustain life as a cohesive ethnic community. Burma’s decades-long policy of targeted destruction of the essential conditions of life for the Rohingya as a group is the driving force behind the mass exodus of the group from the country’s west. Those desperate waves of people then make easy prey for human traffickers and people smugglers.

Suu Kyi must be pressed

For Aung San Suu Kyi to be echoing her former captors’ official portrayal of the Rohingya as ‘Bengali’ migrants assuming a false and non-existent identity is devastating to the Rohingya who had high hopes of the NLD government ending their sufferings.

On the contrary, Suu Kyi should be paying close attention to Amartya Sen, her supporter and former teacher at Delhi University, who sounded the alarm on the plight of the Rohingya when he said in 2014:

The term ‘slow genocide’ is an appropriate fit here because you deny people health care and nutritional opportunities. You deny people opportunities to work and earn an income and make a living to feed themselves and their family members. You deny people having medical care and expel the only organisation(s) providing health care like Médecins Sans Frontières, and don’t allow them to return. That is killing people. And in that sense it is a genocide. It is a slow genocide.

As Aung San Suu Kyi prepares to take over the reins of the new government, the international community – of diplomats, world leaders, journalists, human rights researchers and world citizens – needs to press the Burmese leader to reflect critically on her stances on the Rohingya. There has been a talk of inter-faith and inter-communal reconciliation efforts at the grassroots level between the Rohingya and the Arakan Buddhists. However laudable, these communal efforts can go only so far in ending what effectively is a state crime. As the incoming head of state, the moral and political responsibility to end the slow genocide in Burma will fall squarely on Suu Kyi’s shoulders.

Maung Zarni is research scholar with the renowned genocide Documentation Center of Cambodia (Sleuth Rith Institute) and publisher of the forthcoming Rohingya Calendar 2016-17. (http://www.rohingyacalendar.com/)

UWSA Will Not Attend ‘Meaningless’ Political Dialogue

A patrol station at the entrance to the UWSA headquarters in Panghsang, Wa Pecial Region. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

By Lawi Weng
January 7, 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s largest ethnic armed group has said it will not attend an upcoming political dialogue between the government and rebel groups, calling the conference “meaningless” because it will exclude a number of non-state actors.

A spokesman for the United Wa State Army (UWSA), viewed as the government’s most formidable domestic adversary, said that ongoing conflict and the government’s refusal to recognize three ethnic armed groups undermine the peace process.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Zhao Xiaofu said fighting in territories controlled by Ta’ang, Kachin and Shan rebels as damaging to trust, as conflict has intensified in some areas since the government signed a peace accord with eight of the country’s more than 20 non-state armed groups.

“We observed the fighting, and it’s even more serious now instead of ceasing [after the peace accord],” the spokesman said.

“We believe that political conflicts can only be solved through political dialogue. Using the armed forces is never going to solve the problem, but we believe that all ethnic armed groups should be able to participate.”

Burma’s partial peace pact stipulated that political discussions would commence within 90 days of ascension. Talks are set to begin on Jan. 12 in Naypyidaw, though more than half of the ethnic stakeholders will not be active participants.

Several ethnic armed groups that participated in the peace process declined to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement in solidarity with those who were deemed ineligible by the government. Those who elected not to sign may audit the talks, but cannot make substantive contributions.

The powerful UWSA is believed to have more than 20,000 troops, based in eastern Shan State near the Chinese border. It has been more than a quarter century since the UWSA agreed to a ceasefire with the government, and the group has said that it need not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement as its bilateral truce remains intact.

A peace delegation led by a Union Minister Thein Zaw met with UWSA leadership in December, requesting that the group join the political dialogue. Thein Zaw is the former vice chairman of the government’s peace negotiation team, the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC).

The current peace process has been spearheaded by the administration of President Thein Sein, but is likely to undergo some transformation as a new government takes office later this year.

The new administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) decisively won a general election in November, has vowed to make the peace process its top priority.

Asked what the UWSA expects to see change as Suu Kyi and her party assume power, Zhao Xiaofu said “it’s too early to say.”

“We will keep watching her actions and see if she speaks out for our ethnic people,” he said.

Ethnic Alliance to Boycott Political Dialogue

Burma’s President Thein Sein, government officials, ethnic rebel groups and international witnesses pose for a photo after the signing of a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement in Naypyidaw on Oct. 15, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

By Nyein Nyein
January 8, 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — An alliance of ethnic armed groups that did not sign an October ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government has announced that they will not participate in upcoming political dialogue.

Non-signatories, who are members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), have been invited only to audit the dialogue, which will begin on Jan. 12 in Naypyidaw.

More than 700 representatives of non-state armed groups and the newly formed Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) are set to convene for five days in the capital.

The UNFC boycotted the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), a multilateral peace pact reached between the government and eight of Burma’s more than 20 non-state armed groups on Oct. 15 of last year.

The group abstained because the government refused to admit three allied rebel groups into the pact: the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National democratic Alliance Army of eastern Burma’s troubled Kokang region.

UNFC spokesman Tun Zaw, who also serves as head of the Arakan National Council, said after a Thursday meeting that the group “decided not to participate [in the political dialogue] because the NCA lacks all-inclusivity.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, the spokesman said the UNFC disapproves of the government’s “discriminatory” treatment of non-signatories, adding that a framework for the dialogue drafted by signatories in December “is not what we want.”

The announcement came on the heels of similar comments made by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the country’s largest ethnic armed group, a non-signatory and a non-member of the UNFC. A spokesman for the group told The Irrawaddy that the UWSA would also abstain from on the grounds of the pact’s exclusivity and ongoing fighting in Shan and Kachin states.

Despite the dissatisfaction of non-signatories, those armed groups that did accede to the accord, as well as government stakeholders, have said that they are confident the political dialogue, dubbed the Union Peace Conference, will commence on schedule and successfully within 90 days of signing the accord, as planned.

The ceasefire signing dealt a blow to the unity of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, resulting in the suspension of two groups from the UNFC—the Chin National Front and the Pa-O National Liberation Front—because of their decision to sign.

Despite several attempts to reconcile the groups that did and did not sign, Tun Zaw said that further negotiations in the form of an ethnic armed groups summit would be unnecessary at the time being, and the UNFC has resolved not to participate in the peace process until it is all-inclusive and after the incoming government steps in.

On Tuesday, 126 civil society organizations urged government negotiators, known as the Union Peacemaking Work Committee, and the eight ethnic armed group signatories to postpone the talks in Naypyidaw because of ongoing conflict in Arakan, Kachin and Shan states.

Deferring the talks looks unlikely, however, as the current government will only be in office until late February and has made the peace process central to its legacy.

Hla Maung Shwe, an advisor to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center and a member of the UPDJC, expressed hope that moving on with the dialogue could “reduce the conflict,” despite protest by non-signatories.

The current makeup of the UPDJC will continue its work through the transition period, he said, until the new government assumes power. The incoming administration will be dominated by the National League for Democracy (NLD), chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has publicly committed to making the peace process her top priority.

Following the transfer of power, 11 of the UPDJC’s 16 members—representing the government and the parliament—will be replaced, while five military delegates will remain as assigned, Hla Maung Shwe said.

The UPDJC will meet on Jan. 9 in Naypyidaw for a final conference before the Union Peace Conference begins.

Myanmar NGOs Seek Postponement of Peace Talks

Myanmar President Thein Sein (C) signs documents during a ceremony in Naypyidaw, Oct. 15, 2015. (Photo: RFA)

January 7, 2016

More than 120 civil society organizations want the Myanmar government to put on hold a “peace dialog” aimed at ending the armed conflict in northern Shan and Kachin states until all the warring factions can be brought to the negotiating table.

The Union Peace Conference is set to begin next week in Naypyidaw, but the groups contend that the conference fails to recognize the facts on the ground as fighting in the region continues even though a cease-fire was declared in October. 

Excluding some of the groups involved in the fighting is likely to set the peace process back instead of moving it forward, the 126 groups write in a statement released on Tuesday.

“We have concerns that the peace process could move backward by holding this non-all-inclusive peace conference. We don’t want [to have] misunderstandings, tensions and more fighting,” Burma Partnership Coordinator Khin Ohmar, told RFA’s Myanmar Service. 

“To get a real nationwide cease-fire, government must try to invite all ethnic armed groups for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.”

Despite the NCA, clashes continue in northern Shan and Kachin, while fighting has also flared up in Arakan State as the Arakan Army has joined the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan State in armed resistance.

Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) Chairman Khun Myint Tun said he understood the hesitation, but warned against letting the perfect get in the way of the good.

“We agree [with the] statement of over 120 civil society organizations. They did what they have to,” he said in an interview. But he added that he accepted the government's argument that the incomplete NCA could be broadened to include other groups over time.

Lack of trust

Htin Aung Kyaw of the Union of Karenni State Youth said Khun Myint Tun is missing the point, telling RFA that leaving some of the factions out underscores the lack of trust.

“This [holding a peace conference] has to be done only after building trust with each other,” Htin Aun Kyaw said. “We released this statement because we have concerns that we won’t achieve long-term peace by doing this peace conference.”

President Thein Sein’s government convinced 16 major non-state armed groups to come together for peace negotiations after coming to power in 2011, but the government could only convince eight of those groups to sign the cease-fire agreement last October. Fighting flared up in numerous hot spots in late 2015.

Ethnic leaders and the CSOs contend that a political dialogue that leaves key groups out presents a major challenge to the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi when its new government takes power in March.

The government and the eight signatories to the cease-fire agreed to a framework of proportional representation with 150 seats set aside for the government, parliament, military, ethnic armed groups and political parties. An additional 50 seats are set aside for additional observers and ethnic leaders.

“The political framework was issued with only eight NCA signatory groups, and the armed groups who haven't signed can’t express anything," Khin Omar said. 

"They don’t have any right to discuss the peace process, which is not good,” 

Reported by Zarni Tun, Thinn Thiri and Thin Aung Khine for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.