A ‘Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement’–for What?

Apr 30, ’13

If blogs that normally reflect the strategic thinking of Myanmar’s military leadership are to be believed, the hitherto peaceful Wa Hills may become a battlefield when this year’s rainy season is over.
Military action against the United Wa State Army (UWSA) would no doubt be popular among the Myanmar public at large, which sees the group as a stooge of China. Even the international community would most likely be sympathetic to a campaign to clip the wings of the UWSA. Unlike other armed groups in Myanmar, the UWSA is perceived internationally as a drug-trafficking organization, not a group fighting for ethnic rights or some political ideal. Several of its top leaders have been indicted on drug trafficking charges by a US court.
But the plan to attack the UWSA could also explain why the government wants to see a nationwide ceasefire agreement signed with all other ethnic groups no later than August. Political talks can be held later, the government says.

If the blogs are correct, what they are saying actually casts doubt on the government’s overall policy toward the ethnics: Is it meant to find a lasting solution to Myanmar’s decades-long ethnic strife, or is it just a clever divide-and-rule strategy to defeat the other groups by a variety of means, including wearing them down at the negotiating table?
For there is nothing to indicate that the military is prepared to give in to the demands of, for instance, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and other more genuine ethnic groups that seek a return to the federal system of government that Myanmar had before the 1962 military takeover.
In his speech to mark this year’s Armed Forces Day on March 27, Commander-in-Chief Snr.-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing held the ethnic groups responsible for the violence in the country’s ethnic areas and said: “We made peace agreements, but that doesn’t mean we are afraid to fight. We are afraid of no one. There is no insurgent group we cannot fight or dare not to fight.”
Exactly two years earlier, on Armed Forces Day 2012, Snr.-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing also made it clear that there was little room for negotiation on fundamental political issues, saying, “The military has an obligation to defend the Constitution and will continue to take part in politics as it has done in the past.”
In February of this year, the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar armed forces, conducted a massive military exercise in a central part of the country codenamed “Anawrahta” after the founder of the first Myanmar Empire, who reigned from Bagan from 1044 to 1077 and is one of Myanmar’s celebrated warrior kings.
According to Hla Oo’s Blog, a pro-military website, the war game consisted of “a combined Infantry-Airforce-Tanks-Missiles-Artillery assault on an enemy’s fixed position” like the UWSA’s headquarters at Panghsang on the Chinese border. The blog pointed out that a similar war game took place in March 2012 and was “then followed by a large-scale ground and aerial assault on KIA’s Laiza Headquarters in December 2012.”
This time, “the large-scale assault will be short but brutally decisive” as the Tatmadaw now has “massive firepower” including “short-range tactical missiles and heavy artillery.” The aim would be to “smash” the UWSA and drive “the Chinese Wa,” as they are referred to, “back into China.” If successful, Myanmar’s military would emerge stronger and perhaps also more popular than before—which could increase the chances of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party doing well in the 2015 general election.
Military observers note that the government signed a ceasefire agreement with the KIA in February 1994—and then attacked the Karen National Union (KNU), capturing its Manerplaw headquarters in January 1995. In January 2012, the government signed a ceasefire agreement with the KNU—and later that year launched a massive attack against Laiza. Even if there may be little sympathy for the UWSA among other ethnic armies in Myanmar, agreeing to a ceasefire in August would nevertheless neutralize them and make it easier to attack Panghsang before the end of the year.
If it did decide to mount a decisive assault on the UWSA, however, the Tatmadaw would have to be prepared to face the armed group’s Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS, and other sophisticated military equipment it has obtained from China over the past few decades. No other rebel army in Myanmar is as heavily armed and militarily as strong as the UWSA.
So far, little or no attention has been paid to the Myanmar military’s strategic thinking in regards to the so-called “peace process.” Discussions have centered on “a nationwide ceasefire,” after which a “political dialogue” may be held. The government’s own outfit, the Myanmar Peace Center, has received massive funding from the European Union and other international donors, while a cabal of foreign “peacemakers” and “reconciliation experts” are flocking to the country to get their share of the pie.
The problem is that few if any of those “foreign experts” have a very deep understanding of the complexities of Myanmar’s ethnic problems. And, as critics are also eager to point out, these “experts” are paid more in one month than an ordinary Myanmar worker can earn in five years or more. “Peacemaking” has become a very lucrative industry in Myanmar—at least for the foreign experts and their organizations. And so far, no one has discovered that it is, in fact, a very shrewd strategy designed to outmaneuver and neutralize the non-Bamar ethnic groups without giving in to any of their demands.
While the leaders of the ethnic armies are being bribed with car-import licenses and other economic incentives, many of their followers are unhappy with those arrangements. The result is discord and even splits within those groups and between the various ethnic armies, making this an effective divide-and-conquer game to defeat the ethnic resistance.
In most other peace processes, talks are held first and agreements are signed when a consensus has been reached. No signatures are required for the preceding ceasefire that could be agreed upon verbally. But in Myanmar, the government and the foreign peacemakers are putting the cart before the horse, asking for an agreement to be signed first and then vague promises of talks later.
The model for that kind of strategy would be a somewhat similar peace process in the Indian state of Nagaland. In 1997, the insurgent National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN; the Isaac and Muivah faction) signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government. Today, 17 years later, no less than 80 rounds of talks have been held in what clearly amounts to delaying tactics on the part of the Indian government. Meanwhile, the NSCN’s fighters are getting used to a comfortable life in so-called “peace camps”—and the Naga public is turning against them. They continue to demand “taxes” from the public while the leaders are becoming corrupt, spending the money they have collected on new houses and cars.
A similar development could be seen in Kachin State between the KIA’s signing of a ceasefire agreement in 1994 and when the government decided to break it in 2011. During those 17 years, the KIA lost much of the popular support it had preciously enjoyed—while the government’s attacks over the past two and a half years have galvanized the Kachin nation and made the rebels heroes in the eyes of most Kachins.
The KIA is not likely to repeat the mistake it made in 1994—nor would the “Naga model” work in Myanmar. The NSCN is only one group and it wants to separate Nagaland from India. Myanmar has more than a dozen ethnic armies, and they want federalism, a far more reasonable and realistic demand.
So will killing Myanmar’s ethnic groups with sugar-coated bullets and military action against the UWSA work? One has to consider why the ethnic rebels took up arms in the first place. A nationwide ceasefire agreement will only freeze the problem, not solve it.
And if the offensive against the heavily armed UWSA fails, the Myanmar military is in serious trouble. Whatever the outcome, the foreign peacemakers can always carry on to another conflict zone on the globe—and leave a mess behind in Myanmar.

Wardrums in Myanmar’s Wa hills

By Anthony Davis 
Apr 23, ’14

YANGON – Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, or Tatmadaw, is a man on the move. Since the beginning of the year he has traveled to Laos and Indonesia, attended large-scale war games in central Myanmar, reviewed the country’s largest ever naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal, presided over the annual Army Day parade in the capital Naypyidaw and met with a string of foreign dignitaries. 

A recent less publicized engagement was arguably more significant for Myanmar’s war and peace prospects. On April 6, Min Aung Hlaing flew north from Naypyidaw to the garrison town of Lashio in northeastern Shan State to hold talks with Bao You-ri, the younger brother of Bao You-xiang, the ailing leader of the United Wa State Army (UWSA). Based east of the Salween River in a self-governing “special region”, the UWSA is Myanmar’s largest insurgent group and is at present in an uneasy ceasefire with the government.

That Myanmar’s most powerful military and political figure should himself travel from his headquarters for a meeting with a proxy of the leader of an armed ethnic group rather than delegating the task to the relevant regional commander was intriguing. Even more remarkable was that Min Aung Hlaing was flanked by Armed Forces chief of general staff Gen Hla Htay Win, Air Force commander Gen Khin Aung Myint, and Navy commander Admiral Thura Thet Swe. Such a line-up of the Tatmadaw’s senior-most leadership is unprecedented in any government talks to date with ethnic groups. 
The meeting came at the same time as talks in Yangon between a government panel – including military officers – and a team of leaders from 16 other ethnic factions aimed at drafting a “nationwide ceasefire agreement”, or NCA. Intended to mark the end of 66 years of ethnic and political armed strife and serve as a foundation for further progress on the military roadmap towards “disciplined democracy”, the signing of the NCA has been postponed several times since July last year. The Tatmadaw has now set a deadline of August 1 for the planned grand ceremony. 

The UWSA, however, has remained pointedly aloof from President Thein Sein’s self-touted peace process. Formerly a major segment of the China-backed Communist Party of Burma (CPB), the Wa have had their own ceasefire with the Tatmadaw since the CPB collapsed in 1989. After a spike in tensions caused by the Wa’s rejection of demands that the UWSA subordinate itself to Tatmadaw command as part of a so-called “border guard force” (BGF), the two sides’ ceasefire agreement was renewed in September 2011. 

While monitoring the negotiations surrounding the NCA, the Wa last year put forward a demand for their own state within Myanmar which would effectively legitimize the complete autonomy they currently enjoy in their “Special Region No 2” – and, presumably, the continued existence of their own armed forces to safeguard that autonomy. 

The Wa have the firepower to back such demands. The UWSA is loosely estimated to field close to 25,000 regulars backed by a large militia reserve. The group has been making consistent efforts to expand its capabilities with a view to deterring any possible Tatmadaw moves against it. Following Tatmadaw pressure over the BGF scheme, fears of such an attack were galvanized first by Tatmadaw incursions in 2009 against the autonomous Special Region No 1 in Kokang, to the north of the Wa area, and then by a major government offensive against the insurgent Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in late 2012 and early 2013. 

Whether the younger Bao was flattered or intimidated to find himself facing Myanmar’s most powerful military chiefs remains unclear: the details of their April 6 exchange have not been disclosed. However, it seems likely the message from the military’s side was the same as that which was passed to a delegation from the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) – a de facto ally of the UWSA – at a separate meeting in Lashio that same day. As described to the Irrawaddy magazine by one SSA-N source: “He [Min Aung Hlaing] said the armed groups should lay down their guns as there should only be a single army for the country.” 

Show of strength
In late February Min Aung Hlaing was conveying a rather blunter message from the Tatmadaw: a divisional-level live-fire exercise held outside the central Myanmar town of Meiktila. Dubbed “Anawratha” after the founder of the 11th century Pagan Empire, the well-publicized war games involved a panoply of military power centered on mechanized infantry of the Magwe-based 88th Light Infantry Division using indigenously produced Ukrainian armored personnel carriers and Chinese infantry fighting vehicles. 

The infantry was supported by intense firepower from main battle tanks, a range of artillery systems including multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 105mm and 155mm howitzers, and close air support in the shape of rocket-firing Mi-35 helicopter gunships and low-flying Mig-29 air superiority fighters. Shortly after, a blog site dedicated to the Myanmar military understood to be close to the Tatmadaw described this display of military might as a “final warning” to the UWSA to join the national peace process or face the consequences. 

More optimistic observers of Myanmar politics, including a growing Western lobby that consistently defends Thein Sein’s political reforms and national peace initiative, will choose to assume that the ratcheting up of psychological pressure on the UWSA is essentially just that – psychological pressure. The expectation will be that the Wa, not known for their sensitivity to diplomatic signals, will simply call Naypyidaw’s bluff as they did successfully to threats in 2009 and that the ceasefire status quo will be preserved. 

Such assumptions may well be dangerously misplaced, however. The last time the Tatmadaw staged well-publicized divisional-level exercises outside Meiktila was in March 2012 with a display of firepower primarily intended to impress the KIA, which was then under pressure to renew a ceasefire that had collapsed in mid-2011. When the KIA refused to reenter negotiations, the war games were followed up at the end of year dry season with a full-scale campaign aimed at neutralizing the Kachin headquarters at Laiza. 

The mounting pressure on the Wa thus poses some stark questions: will the UWSA continue to reject participation in the peace process and, if so, does Tatmadaw strategy envisage securing a nation-wide cease-fire with a large majority of ethnic groups by August and then, with that agreement hand, moving decisively against the Wa at the beginning of the dry season in December? 

Conventional wisdom suggests that such a government offensive is improbable for at least three main reasons. First is the sheer scale of operations that would be necessary to break the back of the UWSA. In their Special Region No 2 along the Chinese border the Wa field three main-force brigades with artillery and armored support units. Further south in what is known as Military Region 171 along the Shan State’s border with Thailand five smaller brigades are based. The UWSA also has a reliable ally in the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) which fields a further 3,500 to 4,000 mainly ethnic Shan and hill-tribe troops in its Special Region No 4 wedged between Wa territory and the Mekong River. 

Simply put, taking on the UWSA – a large, well-trained and highly motivated force fighting on home ground with its back to the Chinese border – would amount to the largest single Tatmadaw campaign since Myanmar’s independence from colonial rule in 1948. Considering the likely involved size of forces and firepower in such a conflict, the human cost would be correspondingly heavy. Military analysts believe any full-scale assault on Wa territory would see casualties rising rapidly over the 10,000 mark and possibly far higher during the first few months of the dry season. 

A second and related factor centers on doubts over the Tatmadaw’s capabilities in conducting sustained, combined-arms operations involving the coordination of infantry, armor, artillery and close air support in rugged, hostile terrain. Tatmadaw performance in the Laiza campaign of late 2012 and early 2013 against the KIA, which faced dogged resistance from a far less capable enemy, was at best unimpressive, particularly in regard to the effectiveness of close air support. At worst, it reflected serious problems of planning and coordination. 

Finally, war against the Wa would inevitably incur the diplomatic wrath of China. Since May 2011, China and Myanmar have been joined in a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership”, and Beijing has repeatedly impressed on Naypyidaw the importance of stability along their common border since well before then. The Tatmadaw’s 2009 incursion into Kokang – essentially a minor policing operation by comparison with a potential campaign in the Wa Hills – prompted the exodus of an estimated 36,000 refugees into China and heated protests from Beijing. Any invasion of Wa territory would by some estimates drive at least 100,000 civilians across the border. 

Expanding arsenal
Nevertheless, there are also powerful arguments almost certainly being aired in the upper echelons of the Tatmadaw in favor of a decisive move against the Wa. The most compelling is that the longer the Tatmadaw waits the more problematic the task will become. 

Militarily, the UWSA is clearly playing for time while expanding its forces and modernizing its arsenal with increasingly sophisticated weapons. This rearmament has involved acquiring new systems from across the Chinese border, including armored vehicles and a limited number of ‘Hip’ Mi-17 transport helicopters for which UWSA crews have been undergoing training in China. 

Far more important, however, has been a rapid build-up of stockpiles of infantry weaponry – including man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) – and ammunition intended, if necessary, to sustain what one senior ethnic commander monitoring the resupply process described in late 2012 as a “10-year war.” 

Socially and economically, Special Region No 2 has come to resemble more an annex of China than a region of Myanmar. The lingua franca in the UWSA and the region generally is Mandarin Chinese; the currency is the Chinese yuan; and the mobile telephone network serving the area is Chinese. Meanwhile, Chinese investment in both the rubber and, more importantly, rare earth metal industries is significant and growing. Viewed from Naypyidaw, the continuation of the status quo, let alone the recognition of an autonomous Wa State, risks the region’s de facto accession to China. 

A second factor is a mood of rising nationalist pride and confidence inside the Tatmadaw. This trend appears to derive partly from a process of rapid military modernization which is reinforcing a long-held institutional mission of upholding and defending national unity and sovereignty – a mission which inherently demands an end to the anomaly of states within a state. Nascent militarism, which blends into rising Buddhist nationalism with decidedly xenophobic tinges, appears to be gaining currency across Myanmar society judging by social media posts and a number of popular jingoistic blogs. 

Myanmar’s new nationalism has focused on two main foils. Growing discrimination and outright attacks against the ethnic minority Rohingya community and Muslims more generally have been widely reported. Less visible but never far from the surface of the popular mood is angst over Chinese influence in the country. 

Unease over China’s fast expanding role in Myanmar’s economy grew under military rule and found striking expression in the movement to halt the construction of the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam project in Kachin State in 2011. Against this backdrop, a military campaign against an armed group which is widely regarded as a Chinese proxy force operating within Myanmar’s borders would likely not be a hard sell. It might even be popular, not least in the run up to general elections scheduled for 2015. 

International angles
Internationally, any conflict with the Wa would be presented by Thein Sein’s government with little need for cosmetics as a war on Asia’s largest narcotics-trafficking cartel. The UWSA’s unsavory record as an organization which since the late 1990s has engaged in industrial-scale production and region-wide export of methamphetamine and heroin and whose top leadership has been formally indicted in an United States court would go far to mute criticism in the West. 

By contrast, China’s reaction would be angry and loud. But having predicated its Wa strategy on deterrence – quietly assisting a UWSA build-up that makes war too costly for Naypyidaw to contemplate – the collapse of that deterrent would leave Beijing with surprisingly few options. 

Sanctions against Naypyidaw, let alone active support for a protracted Wa insurgency, would serve only to push Myanmar more rapidly towards the US, Japan and Europe, compounding already lively Chinese fears over perceived containment. A more comprehensive breakdown in bilateral relations would also threaten China’s extensive economic interests in Myanmar and the security of new natural gas and oil pipelines built across the length of Myanmar from the Bay of Bengal to fuel the growth of southwestern China. 

From Beijing’s perspective, allowing matters to deteriorate to that point would be virtually inconceivable. As was the case after the Kokang operation in 2009 and the Myitsone Dam reversal in 2011, China would probably have little choice but to protest and adapt to new realities. 

In the final analysis, the central factor in the Tatmadaw’s calculus remains a military one. The preferred option would clearly be a combined-arms blitzkrieg with heavy emphasis on artillery and air strikes that would swiftly overwhelm key military and administrative centers and smash the UWSA as a cohesive force. Were the Wa to succumb to the temptation of attempting to defend fixed positions against overwhelming firepower, a victory of sorts might well be achieved. 

The risk for the Tatmadaw would be sliding into a morass of open-ended guerrilla resistance. Such a conflict could easily metastasize south into eastern Shan State and along the Thai border, destabilizing a wide swath of territory between the Salween and Mekong Rivers and inflaming relations with other ethnic minorities. Should a war with the Wa drag on with rising casualties, it could also do immense damage to the military’s own national prestige and political leadership role. 

The purely military calculus suggests such risks far outweigh the costs imposed by Wa intransigence and an unpalatable but hardly unbearable status quo. History, however, is long on examples of strategic miscalculations with far-reaching repercussions triggered by military hubris and national pride. 

Anthony Davis is a Bangkok-based security analyst for IHS-Jane’s. 

Myanmar morphs to US-China battlefield

By Bertil Lintner 
May 2, ’13

CHIANG MAI and WASHINGTON – A new reality is emerging amid all the hype about Myanmar’s democratization process and moves to liberalize its political landscape. Myanmar’s drift away from a tight relationship with China towards closer links with the West is signaling the emergence of a new focal point of confrontation in Asia, one where the interests of Washington and Beijing are beginning to collide. 

Rather than being on a path to democracy, Myanmar may find itself instead in the middle of a dangerous and potentially volatile superpower rivalry. That means the traditionally powerful military may not be in the mood to give up its dominant role in politics and society any time soon. 

According to sources in Washington, US President Barack Obama’s administration has made Myanmar one of its top foreign policy priorities. Trade and other exchanges are being encouraged, and, on April 25, acting US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Joseph Yun told Congress the administration is even “looking at ways to support nascent military engagement” with Myanmar as a way of encouraging “further political reforms”. 

The US is also rapidly increasing its intelligence gathering capabilities in Myanmar. The US embassy in the old capital Yangon is now believed to have more intelligence operatives than any other diplomatic mission in Southeast Asia. 

Not surprisingly, Beijing is not looking kindly at these developments. In addition to political maneuvering aimed at pressuring the government in Naypyidaw, China has taken some provocative steps to thwart Western influence in Myanmar. 

Last year, Chinese arms dealers supplied the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a militia operating along the Sino-Myanmar border, with not only assault rifles, machine-guns, rocket launchers and the HN-5 series man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, but also PTL-02 6×6 wheeled “tank destroyers” and another armored combat vehicle identified as Chinese 4×4 ZFB-05s. Now, Jane’s Defence Weekly reports in its April 29 issue that China has supplied the UWSA with several Mi-17 medium-transport helicopters armed with TY-90 air-to-air missiles. 

“The provision of a range of new weapons systems – surface-to-air missiles, armored vehicles and now helicopters – appears effectively to be turning the UWSA into a cross-border extension of the PLA,” one of the authors of the article, Anthony Davis of IHS Jane’s, told Asia Times Online, referring to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. “Even in the context of China’s large-scale military support for the Communist Party of Burma in the late 1960s and 1970s, what is happening today is unprecedented.” 

All of this comes in the wake of a remarkable thaw in relations between Washington and Naypyidaw. Just a couple of years ago, Myanmar was an international pariah, shunned by the West for its abysmal human rights record and subjected to economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union. Myanmar’s only really close ally during this period of isolation was China. Myanmar’s dependence on Beijing was so great that the country was sometimes described as a Chinese client state. 

Then came a remarkable turnaround in 2011. Myanmar’s new president, Thein Sein, reached out to the West through a number of conciliatory moves, such as releasing hundreds of political prisoners. Press censorship was eased, political dissidents were allowed to hold meetings, and foreign journalists were able to report from the country seemingly without any restrictions or being monitored by the previously ubiquitous secret police. 

The West responded in kind. Then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar in December 2011, the first such visit in decades by such a high-ranking Washington official. In November 2012, Obama became the first serving US president ever to visit Myanmar. And on April 22 this year, the European Union lifted all of its sanctions on Myanmar except for an arms embargo. European prime ministers and other EU dignitaries have flocked to the country. 

The US is on the verge of making similar moves in the areas of trade and commerce – but, unlike the EU, the US approach also has a crucial military component. As a first step, in February this year the US invited observers from the Myanmar military to join the US-led military exercises in Thailand known as Cobra Gold for the first time. 

Obama’s so-called “pivot” to Asia has seen Washington reaffirming its alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand – all of them traditional strategic partners in the region. The US is also strengthening ties with its old foe Vietnam, but given that the US and Vietnam are on the same side in this new Cold War in Asia, this is not surprising. 

Myanmar, however, is the only example of how the US has managed to expand its influence at the expense of China’s. “It’s a rollback situation,” says a military analyst in Southeast Asia. 

Meeting of minds
Myanmar’s reform process was never what it seemed – nor was the West’s response to it. The US, naturally, had policies and priorities other than its oft-repeated support for democracy and human rights. The main issue that no one wants to talk about too openly is, of course, the rising power and influence of China – and here, there was a meeting of minds between America’s politicians and Myanmar’s generals. 

Internal documents from the Myanmar military leaked to this correspondent in 2011 talk about “a national crisis” and “an emergency” because China is taking over the country economically and beginning to dominate it politically – so much so that Myanmar “is in danger of losing its independence”. Therefore, Myanmar has to reach out to the West, the documents stated. 

This was music to Washington’s ears. Myanmar’s close relationship with China had long bothered the US, but the balance was tipped when a few years ago it was discovered that Naypyidaw had also established a military relationship with North Korea. 

In late 2010, Washington insiders say, the Obama administration decided that a fundamental policy shift was needed. Diplomats began actively to engage Myanmar with the aim of pulling it away from China’s embrace, and making sure that North Korea did not have a military ally and partner smack in the middle of South and Southeast Asia. Thwarting the alliance with North Korea may have been the main issue in the immediate term, but longer term there is little doubt that the rise of China was the main concern. 

But some signs of reform were needed for Washington to justify its new Myanmar policies and a degree of liberalization came after what was by any measure a blatantly fraudulent general election in November 2010. Nevertheless, a quasi-civilian government took over, and that was enough – at least for the time being. 

But a major hurdle remained: the iconic pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She was released from house arrest a few days after the 2010 election and immediately embarked on a campaign to solve Myanmar’s ethnic crisis. She called for a “second Panglong” – a reference to a series of meetings between the majority Burmans and some of the leaders of the ethnic minorities that her father, Aung San, initiated half a year before he was assassinated and nearly a year before Myanmar became independent. For that, she was attacked by bloggers close to the government as a “traitor”. 

Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in April 2012 by-elections, capturing 43 out of 44 seats it contested. Tens of thousands of people rallied to hear her speak and people were jubilant. But then, she began praising the military, which had kept her under house arrest for most of the time since 1989 and, as she herself had stated on numerous occasions, was responsible for heinous human rights abuses. 

In December last year, she told the BBC that, “It’s genuine, I’m fond of the army. People don’t like me for saying that. There are many who have criticized me for being what they call a poster girl for the army – very flattering to be seen as a poster girl for anything at this time of life – but I think the truth is I am very fond of the army, because I always thought of it as my father’s army.” 

On Armed Forces Day this year, March 27, she, as the only woman among uniformed generals, was given a seat in the front row, where she could watch the Myanmar military display its latest hardware. 

It is now becoming clear that Suu Kyi must have reached an agreement with the military – and that there has been considerable outside, read US, pressure on her to come to terms with the country’s rulers. A politically divided Myanmar would not serve America’s purposes; an alliance between Thein Sein’s government and the popular Suu Kyi would. 

NLD activists admit in private that Suu Kyi and the party leadership were told by the US that they could count on continued support from Washington if they could reach an understanding with Thein Sein and the de facto ruling military. On August 19, 2011, Suu Kyi met Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyidaw. Since then, she has generally not said anything critical of the government or the military. Nor has she said anything meaningful about the country’s ethnic conflicts, which are considered a question of national security and, therefore, the responsibility of the military. 

Nettled neighbor
China is still smarting from the Myanmar government’s decision in September 2011 to suspend construction of a US$3.6 billion China-backed mega-dam in Kachin State, which would have flooded 600 square kilometers of forestland, displaced thousands of villagers and supplied 90% of the project’s electricity to China. A popular campaign against the Myitsone dam was quietly supported by the US embassy in Yangon. A January 14, 2010 cable from the embassy, made public by Wikileaks, stated: “An unusual aspect of this case is the role grassroots organizations have played in opposing the dam, which speaks to the growing strength of civil society groups in Kachin State, including recipients of Embassy small grants.” 

For China, Myanmar is of vital economic and strategic importance. Apart from the Myitsone project, China has substantial investments in other hydroelectric power schemes and mineral extraction, including mining for copper and rare earth minerals. The country is also a significant trade outlet for China’s landlocked southwestern provinces. Moreover, China is building gas and oil pipelines that will facilitate the import of energy from the Bay of Bengal and the Middle East, bypassing the potential strategic chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca. In other words, China cannot just “hand over” Myanmar to the US. 

As a result, China is playing a complex diplomatic game with Naypyidaw. While supporting the UWSA, including through the provision of arms, China has become involved in the peace process with the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA). 

This began in earnest when, on January 19, then Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying visited Myanmar and met with Thein Sein, as well as Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Several rounds of Chinese-sponsored peace talks have been held in the Chinese border town of Ruili, and Chinese officials have reportedly told the Kachin rebels, who are eager to have foreign observers present, that “outside” participation is needed. China, the go-betweens said, will “solve the problem”. Presumably, the Chinese have sent a similar message to the government. 

While waving a carrot in front of the Myanmar government – a promise to solve the bloody conflict in Kachin State and, in January this year, pledges of generous loans in the order of $527 million for infrastructure development and other projects – China’s big stick is its support for the UWSA. 

Few observers believe that China would want the UWSA to actually go to war against the government, but the MANPADs, armored vehicles and now missile-equipped helicopters supplied to the UWSA serve as a deterrent and will make the Myanmar military hesitate to launch an offensive against the Wa. They also serve as a reminder that China, unlike the US, is Myanmar’s immediate neighbor and has the means to interfere in its internal conflicts – and that it can, and is willing to, step up the pressure if Naypyidaw moves too close to Washington. 

Local sources living in Sino-Myanmar border areas say that Chinese authorities increased security all along the frontier during Obama’s one-day visit to Myanmar on November 19. This was, of course, not necessary from a security point of view, but, as one source put it, the gesture was another way of reminding the Myanmar government that China will always be there, while the US is far away. Myanmar, in other words, is caught in the middle and is now finding out that its engagement with the West has a price if it affects the interests of its powerful neighbor. 

According to Jane’s: “The acquisition of helicopters marks the latest step in a significant upgrade for the UWSA, which has emerged as the largest and best-equipped non-state military force in Asia and, arguably, the world.” 

It remains to be seen what China’s next step will be and if the US is prepared to counter it with increased support, including possible military-to-military engagement, for the Myanmar government. But whatever those moves may be, Myanmar has been dragged into a superpower rivalry that it may not be able to handle as the competition for influence intensifies. It is already the country where Obama’s pivot comes into greatest contact with China’s own strategic designs for the region. 

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of several books on Burma/Myanmar, including Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948(published in 1994, 1999 and 2003), Land of Jade: A Journey from India through Northern Burma to China, and The Kachin: Lords of Burma’s Northern Frontier. He is currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media Services. 

War trumps peace in Myanmar

By Bertil Lintner 
Mar 19,  ’13

CHIANG MAI – Things are seldom as they seem in Myanmar, a country still little understood by the outside world. On a visit to Europe in early March, Myanmar President Thein Sein – an ex-general turned civilian politician – claimed that ”There’s no more fighting in the country, we have been able to end this kind of armed conflict” between government forces and various ethnic resistance armies. 

Back at home, the Myanmar army continues its fierce offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the country’s far northern region. As KIA representatives and government officials met for yet another round of peace talks in the Chinese border town of Ruili on March 11, more than a hundred trucks carrying reinforcements and heavy equipment were seen entering Kachin State from garrisons in central Myanmar. In Shan State, almost daily skirmishes are reported with the Shan State Army, which has a shaky ceasefire agreement with the authorities. In Karen State, more government troops are taking up new positions in the hills bordering Thailand. 

The Myanmar government’s doublespeak has not dissuaded Western nongovernmental organizations and think tanks from launching various peacemaking initiatives at a time an entirely different foreign power has taken charge of the process: China. On March 13, outgoing Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said he wanted to see an end to Myanmar’s decades-long ethnic conflicts, which continue to have a severe impact on cross-border trade between the two countries. China ”will continue to develop its friendly cooperative relations with Myanmar based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence, including non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,” Wen assured the public. 

In fact, China has a long history of involvement in Myanmar’s internal affairs, dating back to its massive military support for the now defunct insurgent Communist Party of Burma (CPB) from 1968-78. But will China be any more successful in promoting trade and its brand of peace than it was when Beijing’s policy was to export revolution to the rest of Asia? Today, China has a direct interest in stability in Myanmar and in particular Kachin State, where China has massive investments in the local jade trade, mineral exploration, hydroelectric power, retail and agro-industry. 

The Chinese way of dealing with the problem differs considerably from the softly-softly ”peace-and-reconciliation-through-dialogue” approach of Western interlocutors. In Kachin State, China is waving a carrot to the government in Naypyidaw by pressuring the KIA and allowing Myanmar troops to detour and resupply through Chinese territory. At the same time, China is also waving sticks. According to a December report in Jane’s Intelligence Review, China has allowed the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic militia, to acquire large quantities of ”military hardware, including man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and, for the first time in the UWSA’s 23-year history, the provision of Chinese-made armored vehicles.” 

Chinese-made armored personnel vehicles with heavy machine guns have been spotted in the UWSA’s Pangshang headquarters and the Wa-held town of Mong Pawk in Shan State across from China’s Yunnan province frontier. According to Jane’s and eyewitness accounts, the vehicles appear to be Chinese-manufactured PTL02, the export version of the WMA301 Assaulter 105mm tank destroyer, and an unidentified wheeled combat reconnaissance vehicle equipped with a heavy machine gun. The UWSA has also acquired brand-new Chinese-made 12.7mm QJZ-89, or Type 89, heavy machine guns as well as other modern weapons. 

The UWSA has had a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government since 1989 and it would be surprising if China aims to spark another ethnic in or near the 20,000 square kilometers of territory that the Wa control adjacent to the Chinese border. But by letting the UWSA acquire its heavy weaponry, China has sent a strong message to Naypyidaw at time the Myanmar military has ramped up military operations against the Kachin near the Chinese border. 

China, one of Myanmar’s few international allies under the previous ruling junta, is now known to be unhappy with Thein Sein’s moves to improve relations with the West, especially the United States. Beijing is still smarting from the Myanmar government’s decision in September 2011 to suspend the construction of a US$3.6 billion China-backed dam in Kachin State. The announcement was made while Myanmar foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin was in Washington for meetings with State Department officials. If allowed to go ahead, the dam would flood 600 square kilometers of forestland, displace thousands of villagers and send 90% of the power generated to China. 

Two months later, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton paid a historic visit to Myanmar, the first in decades by such a high-ranking US official. Other Western countries have responded enthusiastically to Myanmar’s drift away from China towards more diversified diplomacy. Economic and financial sanctions have been eased, aid and investment have been pledged and previous criticism of human rights abuses perpetuated by the Myanmar army in ethnic minority areas has disappeared from Western governments’ agendas. 

China’s involvement in the peace process began in earnest on January 19 when Chinese vice foreign minister Fu Ying visited Myanmar to meet with Thein Sein and armed forces commander-in-chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Fu, who is known for her no-nonsense approach to foreign policy issues, reportedly made it clear that Beijing wanted a stop to the fighting in Kachin State. From 1994 to 2011, the KIA had a ceasefire agreement with the government but it broke down over the core issue of whether Myanmar will function in future as a federal union or a centralized state with no real autonomy for ethnic areas. 

When Chinese-sponsored peace talks were held in the border town of Ruili on February 3, Beijing sent Luo Zhaohui, a former ambassador to Pakistan and now director general of Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of Asian Affairs, to ”observe” the process. The second round of talks at Ruili from March 11-12 was attended by Wang Yingfan, another high-ranking foreign ministry official. According to sources in Ruili, Wang has been assigned to monitor all future talks between the Myanmar government and the Kachins. 

The same sources say that China has put heavy pressure on the KIA to accept what would have amounted to an unconditional ceasefire with the Myanmar government. Before the previous round of China-sponsored peace talks in Ruili in early February, Chinese officials went to the Kachin headquarters in Laiza near the border to pick up Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the KIA’s chief of staff, to ensure his attendance, according to sources familiar with the situation. He had refused to participate in talks held in October last year because the Myanmar army were at the time shelling Kachin refugee settlements in the area, the sources said. The recent round of talks ended with the two sides agreeing only to meet again. 

Peace industrial complex
China’s overt intervention in Myanmar’s civil war raises doubts about the viability of Western-led mediation efforts – as does the proliferation of Western organizations that have turned peace initiatives in Myanmar into a virtual industry. The Norwegian-initiated Myanmar Peace Support Initiative has been followed by similar efforts by the Switzerland-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Japan’s Nippon Foundation and various other European Union-sponsored initiatives now being run through the Myanmar Peace Center, an entity created by Thein Sein’s office. 

The Institute for Security and Development Policy, a Swedish think tank, has also has received EU funding for ”national reconciliation and peace-building with ethnic group”, while Pacta, a Finnish NGO, and the Phnom Penh-based Center for Peace and Conflict Studies are likewise known to be looking for peace-making opportunities in Myanmar. At least six individuals are also involved with the Myanmar Peace Center in pursuit of their own private agendas. There are millions of dollars and Euros at stake in these so far futile peace efforts. 

The outcome has been overlapping initiatives, rivalry among various organizations and, more often than not, a lack of understanding by inexperienced ”peacemakers” of the root causes of the conflicts. On April 22, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group will honor Thein Sein at its annual ”In Pursuit of Peace Award Dinner” in New York, an award some critics view as a thinly veiled attempt by the group to win influence with Naypyidaw and steal a march from their conflict resolution-oriented competitors. 

That is not to say that the Chinese approach to peace has been more sophisticated. In talk shows on Radio Beijing, Chinese academics have expressed the view that the root of the problem is that the Kachins and other ethnic minorities are not getting their fair share of local revenues, an analysis that reduces decades of armed struggle for recognition of ethnic identity into a simplistic quest for economic benefits. The Kachins and other ethnic groups have pointed out that Myanmar government negotiators assigned to peace talks have no authority to discuss political issues such as federalism, making the talks little more than talks about talks with no prospect of a binding political solution to the conflict. 

There also appears to be a lack of cohesion in China’s approach. In December last year, several closed-door meetings were held in Beijing where Yunnan-based academics argued that the Chinese government should close the border entirely and cooperate only with Myanmar authorities to crush the KIA’s supply lines and improve Beijing’s strained relationship with Naypyidaw. Foreign ministry officials reportedly warned that such a one-sided view of the problem could lead to a massive influx of Kachin refugees into Yunnan and motivate attacks on Chinese businesses and individuals situated in Kachin State. 

Moreover, China must take into account that more than 130,000 ethnic Kachins now reside in Yunnan. When the KIA came under attack by helicopter gunships, fighter jets and heavy artillery in January, several thousand Yunnan-based Kachins traveled by truck and bus near the border to show solidarity with their ethnic brethren on the other side. Many other Chinese Kachins were stopped at security checkpoints before they could reach the border area. Given the sensitivity of ethnic issues in China with separatist movements active in Tibet and Xinjiang, Beijing is likely keen to avoid antagonizing yet another minority people, even a relatively small one like the Kachin. 

Whether Western or Chinese, current peace efforts fail to take into account Myanmar’s long history of failed peace talks. The KIA, along with 12 other ethnic and political rebel armies, took part in Myanmar’s first broad-based peace parley in 1963. Those talks broke down quickly on all fronts when Myanmar’s new military government which had seized power in March 1962 offered the rebels only amnesty and rehabilitation with no political concessions. 

In 1972, the KIA approached the government in pursuit of a ceasefire that would have enabled both sides to better resist the CPB, which at the time was spreading its influence all along the Sino-Myanmar border. The government contemplated the offer for a couple of months then turned it down. Four years later, the KIA made peace instead with the CPB and began to receive Chinese-made weapons from the communists to sustain their fight against government forces. 

In 1980, as Beijing was in the process of abandoning its previous policy of supporting communist insurgent movements across Southeast Asia, China sponsored semi-secret talks between the Myanmar government and the CPB as well as the KIA. Kachin leader Brang Seng even traveled to Yangon to meet Myanmar’s then military dictator Gen Ne Win but no political agreement was reached. While the Kachins asked for autonomy they were requested to recognize the authority of Ne Win’s then ruling party, the Burma Socialist Program Party. 

At the same time, a general amnesty was announced in which the entire opposition was invited back to the country, though on the government’s terms. Most leading ethnic Burman exiles, opposition politicians and activists accepted the offer; few if any Kachins or other ethnic group members did. 

In 1994, the KIA signed for the first time a proper ceasefire agreement with the government. Several rounds of talks were held between the Kachins and Myanmar’s military rulers and again the military refused to compromise. Peace could only be achieved by accepting the military’s central authority and abandoning all demands for federalism and autonomy. Now, the failed peace drives of 1963, 1972, 1980 and 1994 are being repeated as Thein Sein’s government maintains the same inflexible position of past military governments. 

Both the West and China have shown ineptitude in dealing with Myanmar’s complex ethnic issues. The internal wars that have plagued the country since independence from Britain in 1948 are now no closer to a lasting solution than they were in 2011, when Thein Sein first announced his intention to achieve national reconciliation through ceasefire initiatives. Despite all the government’s rhetoric and internationally-backed peace efforts, the situation in Myanmar’s war-torn frontier areas is depressingly the same and lasting peace as elusive as ever. 

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of several books on Burma/Myanmar, including Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948(published in 1994, 1999 and 2003), Land of Jade: A Journey from India through Northern Burma to China, and The Kachin: Lords of Burma’s Northern Frontier. He is currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media Services. 

Rain for Myanmar’s peace parade

By Bertil Lintner 
Jun 25 ’13

MYITKYINA – A grand ceremony is expected to be held next month in the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw, where a nationwide ceasefire with various ethnic resistance armies will be announced to an audience of United Nations representatives and other foreign dignitaries. Ten of Myanmar’s 11 major ethnic rebel groups who have signed individual ceasefire agreements with the government will be highlighted at the high-profile event. 

The one main rebel outlier, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has not yet reached a ceasefire agreement. The most recent round of talks between KIA and government representatives in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina held between May 28-30 failed to yield the deal government authorities anticipated. The two sides agreed only to a seven-point agreement stating that “the parties undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and “to hold a political dialogue” – though no firm commitment was made concerning when such talks would commence. 

The “peace” celebrations will nonetheless go ahead, government officials have indicated. But will the announcement really lead to an end to Myanmar’s decades-long civil war and is it really the KIA who is the spoiler of the event? Behind the peace hype and reconciliation rhetoric lie fundamental problems which the different ceasefire agreements have wholly failed to address. All the ethnic armies and legally allowed ethnic political parties still demand that federalism replace the current military-dominated centralized power structure, which as constructed leaves only negligible powers to Myanmar’s seven regions and seven ethnic states. 

During interviews in Myitkyina, church leaders and community activists expressed the same view. More than a dozen rebel armies, with or without ceasefire agreements with the government, make up the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), which, as the name suggests, are in favor of federalism. Within the UNFC, the KIA sits together with Shan, Karen, Mon, Karenni, Pa-O, Chin and several other ethnic armies. In November 2012 and January this year, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, the main legal political party among the Shans, reiterated its call for “genuine federalism”. 

Nor are most of the touted ceasefire agreements actually new. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, ceasefire deals were reached between the central government and about two dozen ethnic resistance armies. The present government, led by Thein Sein, has reaffirmed the most important of those agreements and added two more, including with the Shan State Army (South) (SSA-S) in December 2011 and the Karen National Union (KNU) in January 2012. A ceasefire agreement was also reached with the KIA in 1994 but broke down in June 2011 when the government renewed attacks in the northern state. 

Despite all the hype, little actual progress towards has actually been made during Thein Sein’s tenure. In Shan State, the Shan State Army (North), which has had a ceasefire agreement with the government since 1989, has also come under renewed attack from government forces. The SSA(N) has recently received support from the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA), a heavily armed ethnic militia that fears it will be next in the government’s line of fire if the KIA is defeated militarily or forced to surrender. 

Like the SSA(N), the UWSA has had a ceasefire agreement with the government since 1989. But the rebel group has refused to lay down its arms and is demanding a separate state for the ethnic Wa people (at present, the Wa Hills are part of Shan State.) The UWSA consists of anywhere between 20,000-30,000 armed fighters and is equipped with modern weaponry obtained from China, including artillery, man-portable air-defense systems, armored vehicles and, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly, even a small number of transport helicopters. 

Pictures of armored vehicles flying Wa flags have appeared in the media, including Asia Times Online. Two helicopters are reportedly stationed at a remote location near Pangwei in the northeastern Wa Hills, far from prying eyes. China’s position is clear: it is losing its previously dominant role in Myanmar to the West, and it wants to maintain leverage inside the country. 

China is showing that it can impact the situation inside the country in a way that the United States and European Union cannot. And China’s role in this development is much more important than awkward and often misguided efforts by a host of Western interlocutors who have become involved in the efforts to establish peace in Myanmar. 

Unyielding position
In spite of all these difficulties, the government’s position has remained unyielding: it demands that the country’s ethnic armies accept, at least in principle, the 2008 constitution, which paved the way for a general, but blatantly rigged, election in November 2010 and the appointment of Thein Sein, a general who served as prime minister in the previous military junta’s cabinet, as the president of a new quasi-civilian government. That constitution is not federal in character and gives far-reaching powers to the military, including the right to take over power if so requested by the president. 

During recent talks with rebel armies, government negotiators have stated that they must transform themselves into proper political parties, take part in elections and, if elected to the national assembly, then raise their grievances and suggestions for constitutional change through parliamentary processes. In an interview with the Washington Post on January 19, 2012, Thein Sein stated bluntly that the ceasefire procedure “requires the two sides to sign an agreement and [for ethnic armed groups to] return to the legal fold without carrying arms.” 

But even if the ethnic rebels became parliamentarians and pressed to change the constitution, it would entail a complicated procedure where no substantial progress could be made without the consent of the powerful military. The first chapter of the new constitution states specifically that the “Defense Services” shall “be able to participate in the National political leadership role of the State”. That provision allots 25% of the national parliament’s seats for soldiers. 

The charter’s Chapter 12 delineates complicated rules for constitutional amendment, which effectively gives the military veto power over any proposed changes to the present power structure. Minor constitutional changes may be considered by the bicameral parliament if 20% of MPs submit a bill. However, a tangle of 104 clauses mean that major charter changes cannot be made without the prior approval of more than 75% of all MPs, after which a nationwide referendum must be held where more than half of all eligible voters cast ballots. 

Constitutional change is even trickier in outlying regions and states, which through the 2008 constitution now have their own local assemblies. However, one-third of all elected assembly seats are reserved for the military and the legislative bodies are subjected to perhaps the most curious of clauses in the 2008 constitution, namely number 183, which states: “Although there are vacant seats, the Region and State Hluttaw [assemblies] shall have the right to carry out its functions. Moreover, the resolutions and proceedings of the Region and State Hluttaw shall not be annulled, notwithstanding the acts of some person who was not entitled to do so sat or voted or took part in the proceedings are later discovered.”

In plain language, a group of imposters could legally enter local assemblies, sit on their benches and vote and nothing could be done to undo their actions even if it was later discovered that they were not elected. One international human rights lawyer who spoke to Asia Times Online describes this as “the weirdest clause I’ve ever seen in a constitution.” 

The only plausible explanation for this clause is to prevent local assemblies in ethnic minority areas to pass decisions and regulations that would give them more rights and jeopardize the state’s current centralized power structure. Now, that can be thwarted by blocking some elected local assembly persons from voting, and sending in “some persons” to vote in their stead. 

Efforts to establish lasting peace in Myanmar have been further hampered by the involvement of a host a rival foreign peacemakers with huge budgets, overlapping agendas and, it seems, little understanding of the complexities of Myanmar’s ethnic problems. According to Tom Kramer, an analyst from the Transnational Institute, a Netherlands-based think-tank, who has studied the problem for years:

The present peace process is top-down, lacks civil society involvement and still has to move from making new ceasefires to a political dialogue. Concerns and criticisms from local organizations on the peace process, including on the role of international organizations, have not been properly addressed and sometimes even ignored … in the meantime economic reforms – especially the new land and foreign investment law – coupled with the new ceasefires have opened up the flood gates for local and international companies to enter ethnic borderlands and buy up land – pushing local communities off their ancestral lands. The experiences from the Kachin ceasefire – which were followed by large-scale unsustainable resource extractions – should serve as a clear warning signal.

Concessionary peace
During the 17 years the KIA had a ceasefire agreement with the government, vast tracts of forest land in the far north of the country were denuded, with the majority of the timber exported to neighboring China. Minerals were also extracted at rapid rates, and Kachin State saw an unprecedented influx of businessmen from China as well as southern Myanmar. Many KIA leaders were involved in those businesses, which over time caused the group to lose much of its popular support. Only after hostilities resumed in June 2011 did the Kachin public rally behind the movement, as some of the old leaders were sidelined and a new generation of rebel leaders took over. 

As Kramer argues, the same pattern may soon be repeated in other ethnic areas. After signing a ceasefire agreement with the government, KNU leaders were also awarded major business concessions. For example, top KNU officials have been given licenses to import cars from Thailand, and the sons of one KNU leader are reportedly running a human smuggling network and fake ID business. 

During recent talks in Naypyidaw between Thein Sein and Yawd Serk, the leader of SSA (South), permission to establish rubber plantations in Thai border areas was a main topic of discussion, as was the possibility of mining concessions. The government is evidently using economic incentives to neutralize ethnic minority demands for political change, as it did with the KIA in the 1990s. According to a well-placed source familiar with the situation: “The peace process is a protection racket for vested interests, financed by the international community.” 

The so-called peace process is thus unlikely to result in the transformation of Myanmar into a federal union of empowered ethnic states. According to sources close to the armed forces, the country’s powerful military is staunchly opposed to any move towards federalism, as top generals fear it would eventually lead to the balkanization of the country. The military has always viewed itself as the sole protector of the country’s territorial integrity. After fighting ethnic rebels for decades, new, more sophisticated strategies are being deployed to suppress, not accommodate, the demands of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. 

While Thein Sein claims to be pursuing national reconciliation, his government’s policies aim to divide the country into “135 national races”. In Kachin State, where community leaders have for years made efforts to unite tribes and linguistic groups in the area, the government has divided them into nearly a dozen different groups, of which most are more accurately described as sub-tribes, clans and extended families. 

“This is pure divide-and-rule policy,” said a community leader in Myitkyina. The same could be said about the Shans and others, which have been sub-divided into numerous smaller entities that can not reasonably be classified as distinct ethnicities. A more realistic estimate would put the number of distinct ethnic groups in Myanmar at between 20 and 30. 

While declaring peace and reconciliation, the government is simultaneously bolstering its military presence in the Kachin, Shan and Karen states. Although fighting has reduced in Kachin State since the inconclusive talks held in Myitkyina in May, armed clashes continue in northern Shan State as the Myanmar Army advances against Shan, Kachin and Palaung – another ethnic group – rebel positions. 

The July ceremony in Naypyidaw will undoubtedly be a grand display of self-touted government successes, an announcement many foreign governments and international peacemaking groups involved in the peace process will be eager to celebrate and recognize. But it will not herald an end, or even the beginning of the end, of Myanmar’s decades-long ethnic strife. And the quest for what the country’s various ethnic groups yearningly refer to as a “genuine federal union” will be as elusive as ever. 

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of several books on Burma/Myanmar, including Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948(published in 1994, 1999 and 2003), Land of Jade: A Journey from India through Northern Burma to China, and The Kachin: Lords of Burma’s Northern Frontier. He is currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media Services.

Why reform in Myanmar is only skin-deep

By Berti Lintner
Washington Post

To the satisfaction of the rulers, Suu Kyi has morphed from a once fiery opposition leader into an avid supporter of the new order

Since ex-general Thein Sein assumed the presidency in March 2011, foreign observers have generally appeared optimistic that Myanmar is on its way toward some kind of liberal democracy. The only snag seems to be the ongoing conflict with ethnic rebels in Kachin, Myanmar’s northernmost state, which has been explained as local commanders acting with “an unusual degree of autonomy.” Either that, or people question the president’s ability to control the military during the country’s democratic reform. Some foreign analysts have argued, however, that the outside world needs to support Thein Sein’s “reformist” government against so-called “military hardliners.”
According to this narrative, neither Thein Sein nor the military are held responsible for the brutal suppression of the Kachins, which has not come to an end despite a tentative peace agreement reached in the state capital of Myitkyina in May 2013. In fact, the two sides only agreed to undertake efforts to achieve “de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and “to hold a political dialogue.” No firm commitments were made concerning when and where such talks would take place.
This decades-long civil war reached its height in January 2013 with the inclusion of massive artillery barrages supported by airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter jets. It defies logic that such a large-scale offensive could have been launched by some local commanders or, as the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies claims, that “a minority of the military” is acting “as a spoiler” to the democratisation process. This assessment reflects a lack of understanding of the Burmese military’s command structure as well as of its relationship with Thein Sein’s government.
It is too often forgotten that Thein Sein came to power through the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the name for Myanmar’s military regime. The SPDC seized power in 1988 and was officially dissolved in March 2011 when Thein Sein assumed the presidency. Thein Sein was heavily involved with the junta government. His positions included general of the Myanmar army, first secretary of SPDC, and later prime minister (a position he held up until he became president).
At no stage in his career did Thein Sein display any political independence or initiative. He was a loyal soldier, hand-picked by then-SPDC chairman and prime minister, Than Shwe. Thein Sein always said and did what he was told.
For instance, in the summer of 2010, while serving as Prime Minister, Thein Sein received a delegation from North Korea. He was quoted praising the military advancements of the Korean people under Kim Jong Il and advocating the strengthening of the countries’ friendship. In those days, Myanmar was not shy to admit its friendly relations with North Korea.
The cooperation continues today, only in secret. A Myanmarese businessman who recently met Thein Sein in private described him as “indecisive, just repeating what’s been said in official announcements, saying what he has been told to say.”
So, who is telling Thein Sein what to say? According to sources familiar with high-level Burmese military thinking, Thein Sein was selected because he had “no ambitions” and would not pose a threat to Than Shwe, who slipped from public view into supposed retirement.
In June 2010, Than Shwe picked his trusted colleague, Min Aung Hlaing, to become head of the armed forces. Min Aung Hlaing was another soldier who could be trusted not to turn against his former mentor; he, too, is not known for being an independent thinker.
Both President Thein Sein and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing owe their positions to Than Shwe. Than Shwe remains a powerful player behind the scenes and, according to military insiders, still has the final say in matters concerning security.
Myanmar’s power structure with the military at its apex has not changed. It would therefore be incorrect to talk about a transitioning political system. It is more important now than ever to understand what is really happening in Myanmar and how change may or may not come about.
The country’s constitution was drafted by a military-appointed body and was adopted after a rigged referendum in May 2008. The referendum was held when Cyclone Nargis hit the country, which caused widespread destruction in parts of the country near the coast. Officially, 92.48 per cent of eligible voters voted in favour of the new constitution, which came into effect after a general election in November 2010.
That election was also blatantly rigged and thoroughly fraudulent. Even the regime’s own announcements demonstrated this. State-run media had to correct previous reports that stated that 102.09 per cent of Pegu Division had turned out to vote. The correct figure, the announcement said, should have been 99.57 per cent. Likewise, in a township in western Rakhine State, 104.28 per cent of the electorate were said to have voted; that number was later adjusted to 71.74 per cent.
The Irrawaddy (a Thailand-based newsmagazine run by Burmese exiles) quoted a Yangon businessman as saying that the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) “won in two constituencies where the elections had been cancelled in Kachin State – the USDP not only won across the country, but also in areas where the elections were not held.” A well-placed source in Yangon said that he and many of his friends had voted for one of the pro-democracy parties that took part in the election. Its win in their township was confirmed when the local votes were counted. But then, a number of “advance votes” were dumped into the constituency, reversing the initial result. Similar cases of fraud were reported all over the country.
The USDP is the successor to the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was set up by the junta government in September 1993. Among USDA membership were Than Shwe and Thein Sein. The association, which claimed to have 24 million members, became a party in March 2010, with Thein Sein as its leader, in order to take part in the November 2010 elections. It secured a solid majority in both houses of the new bicameral parliament. Even of the seats it did not win, a quarter of all seats in both houses are directly appointed by the military and selected from serving military officers.
With a new constitution in place, and a parliament it could control, Myanmar’s ruling military elite felt that it could embark on a reform programme to enhance its severely tarnished international reputation. It hoped to improve relations with the West in order to counterbalance its heavy dependence on China, which, according to internal documents from the Myanmar army made available to me, was causing “a national crisis.” Thus opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest shortly after the election, hundreds of political prisoners were set free, and the media was allowed to operate amazingly freely after decades of rigid censorship.
In April 2012, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), took part in a by-election to fill seats left vacant after USDP delegates were appointed ministers and deputy ministers. According to the new constitution, cabinet members cannot both sit in the Parliament and be members of a political party. The NLD won 43 of the 44 seats the party contested. Suu Kyi became a member of parliament – but her party is in control of only 7 per cent of all seats.
Critics say her performance, and that of the NLD, has been entirely disappointing. They have not acted as an opposition, questioning official policies and presenting alternatives. Instead, they have trudged after the government, asked a few questions but offered nothing new. Khun Htun Oo, a prominent leader of the Shan people, one of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities, said that Suu Kyi had been “neutralised” by the government, and as such, “can no longer speak for the people.” Her silence over the war in Kachin has caused not only criticism but also widespread condemnation, especially from Kachin community groups who feel betrayed.
To the satisfaction of Myanmar’s rulers, Suu Kyi has morphed from a once fiery opposition leader into an avid supporter of their new order. In her most recent praise for the military, speaking at the East-West Centre in Honolulu in January 2013, Suu Kyi said: “I’ve often been criticised for saying that I’m fond of the Burmese Army, but I can’t help it, it’s the truth.”
Such statements have been widely perceived as insensitive and have cost Suu Kyi support among Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, many of which looked to her for inspiration during the darkest days of military rule. As Suu Kyi spoke in Hawaii, thousands of Kachins, mostly women and children, were hunkered down in newly dug bunkers near the Kachin rebel headquarters while the army and air force ramped up their indiscriminate bombardment.
There is actually little Suu Kyi can do about the dominant role of the military. The first chapter of the 2008 constitution states that the “Defence Services” shall “be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State.” And it does so by holding 25 per cent of all seats in the national parliament. The charter lays out complicated rules for constitutional amendments, which effectively give the military veto power over any proposed changes to the present power structure. Minor constitutional changes may be considered by if 20 per cent of MPs submit a bill. However, a tangle of 104 clauses mean that major charter changes cannot be made without the prior approval of more than 75 per cent of all MPs, after which a nationwide referendum must be held where more than half of all eligible voters cast ballots.
This complicated procedure, coupled with Myanmar’s record of holding bogus referendums (the first, held for the 1974 constitution was as lacking in credibility as the one held in 2008) make it virtually impossible to change those clauses. This legally perpetuates the military’s indirect hold on power.
As for the MPs-to-be, constitutional safeguards are already in place to make sure they don’t cause any trouble after they are elected. Article 396 of the new constitution ensures that the Union Election Commission (which is indirectly controlled by the military through personal contacts and) can be dismissed for “misbehaviour.” And, if the “democratic” situation gets really out of hand, Article 413 gives the president the right, “if necessary,” to hand over executive as well as judicial powers to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
It gets even trickier at the local level: Myanmar’s seven regions and seven states all have their own assemblies. There, one-third of all elected seats are reserved for the military, and local assemblies are subjected to perhaps the most curious of clauses in the 2008 Constitution. Number 183 reads: “The resolutions and proceedings of the Region and State Hluttaw [assemblies] shall not be annulled, notwithstanding the acts of some person who was not entitled to do so sat or voted or took part in the proceedings are later discovered.”
In simple language, a group of imposters could enter the local assemblies, sit there, and vote, and nothing can be done about it, even if they were not elected. The purpose of the clause is to prevent local assemblies from passing decisions and regulations that would give them more rights and jeopardise the centralised structure of the state. Through the clause, these efforts can be thwarted by blocking elected local assembly persons from voting and instead sending in “some persons” to vote in their place.
A Myanmar lawyer argues that the new setup is based on Than Shwe’s calculations. Previous Myanmar dictators made the mistake of handing off power and not maintaining a proper legacy. When he stepped aside in 2010, Than Shwe took a different path in order to protect himself and his children and grandchildren. He created four centres of power: the military, the central government, the de facto ruling USDP, and parliament. Parliament is the only centre of power in which some token opposition is tolerated.
Of those four power centres, the military remains the most important. Apart from its special powers, it also controls the National Defence and Security Council, which acts above the government. Thein Sein may be its chairman, but that is irrelevant. Five of its 11 members are serving military officers and another five are former officers. Only one is an actual civilian. The military is not under Thein Sein’s command, but under that of Min Aung Hlaing who, in turn, reports to his mentor Than Shwe.
What Myanmar has today is a military government and power structure with a quasi-civilian facade. Opposition parties and freedom of expression are tolerated within the confines of what the military can manage and control. It is highly unlikely that the military would allow the NLD to assume power even if it wins in the 2015 elections. It may, however, be able to appoint some ministers in the government. But, according to the constitution, these ministers and deputy ministers would have to resign from their parliamentary posts and even their respective political parties once assuming cabinet posts. The NLD will thus be “tamed” and become part of the established order.
The pervasive reach of the military doesn’t just extend to the formal branches of power. It has its hands in Myanmar’s supposedly “freed” society as well. The media may be freer than ever before under military rule, but more sophisticated methods have replaced old censorship rules.
In January and February, the website of the Eleven Media group, the country’s largest privately-owned publishing company, was hacked and pictures and other material were deleted. Eleven Media was the first domestic news group to report objectively about the war in Kachin State. One of its journalists, who travelled to the war zone in Kachin, was kept under visible surveillance, a method frequently used to intimidate people. The email accounts of several journalists, both Burmese and foreign, have been hacked by the military. Myanmar’s dreaded secret police, known among the public as “MI” or “Military Intelligence,” is alive and well. And Myanmar’s most draconian press law, the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, which was introduced after the first military takeover, has not been revoked.
Though the 1962 law is not currently being enforced, in May this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report that states that the media environment in the country remains repressive despite recent liberalisations. In June, Time magazine was banned for carrying a story about a controversial Buddhist monk, U. Wirathu, whose sermons allegedly encouraged mobs to attack the country’s Muslim minority.
At the same time, the military has retained its powerful position in the economy and economic development through its two vast holding companies, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). UMEH, founded in 1990, is run by the Burmese military. The Directorate of Defence Procurement, the body that oversees Myanmar’s purchases of military equipment from abroad, owns 40 per cent of the shares while active and veteran military personnel control the remaining 60 per cent. According to a Reuters special report, UMEH “enjoys unrivalled access to import permits and monopolies.” And according to Sean Turnell, an expert on the Burmese economy at Australia’s Macquaire University, “for years, ex-dictator Than Shwe controlled the profits”. MEC was founded in 1997 and is a far more secretive organisation operated under the Directorate of Defence Procurement with interests in heavy industries and IT ventures.
While this new system suits Than Shwe and his immediate underlings, it may not work in the long run, and it is in this context that future conflicts could emerge. The man to watch is ex-General Thura Shwe Mann, No 3 in the former SPDC and now parliamentary Speaker. He has reportedly forged an informal alliance with Suu Kyi against Than Shwe, but that may be a temporary arrangement as sources who are familiar with the process say that he will dump her when she is no longer needed to boost his popularity. On the other hand, military insiders assert that Shwe Mann is not popular with the regional commanders. He is seen as “too ambitious” and could pose a threat to the established order.
Shwe Mann may or may not succeed, but there will be more conflicts and power struggles within the ruling military elite. It is there — and not in the parliament or even the government — that the future of Myanmar lies. Than Shwe has just turned 80 and is reportedly not in good health. It remains to be seen if the power structure he has created will survive him. Optimists argue that the passing of Than Shwe could herald in a new, even more open era in which the military may even fade into the background. Sceptics, however, remember that foreign observers and Burmese alike used to say the same thing about the old strongman Ne Win — and that the military has managed to remain in power in one shape or another. The only thing that is clear is that despite all the hype, Myanmar’s “reform programme” is only skin-deep and designed to preserve the military’s grip on power, not undermine it.
— Washington Post
Bertil Lintner lives in Thailand and is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of seven books on Myanmar, including Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948 and Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy.

Full text of the Time magazine article banned in Burma, " The Face of Buddhist Terror"

We publish below the Full text of the cover story “The Face of Buddhist Terror” in July 01, 2013 TIME magazine;

The Face of Buddhist Terror

It’s a faith famous for its pacifism and tolerance. But in several of Asia’s Buddhist-majority nations, monks are inciting bigotry and violence — mostly against Muslims
By Hannah Beech / Meikhtila, Burma, And Pattani, Thailand 
His face as still and serene as a statue’s, the Buddhist monk who has taken the title “the Burmese bin Laden” begins his sermon. Hundreds of worshippers sit before him, palms pressed together, sweat trickling down their sticky backs. On cue, the crowd chants with the man in burgundy robes, the mantras drifting through the sultry air of a temple in Mandalay, Burma’s second biggest city after Rangoon. It seems a peaceful scene, but Wirathu’s message crackles with hate. “Now is not the time for calm,” the monk intones, as he spends 90 minutes describing the many ways in which he detests the minority Muslims in this Buddhist-majority land. “Now is the time to rise up, to make your blood boil.”

Buddhist blood is boiling in Burma, also known as Myanmar–and plenty of Muslim blood is being spilled. Over the past year, Buddhist mobs have targeted members of the minority faith, and incendiary rhetoric from Wirathu–he goes by one name–and other hard-line monks is fanning the flames of religious chauvinism. Scores of Muslims have been killed, according to government statistics, although international human-rights workers put the number in the hundreds. Much of the violence is directed at the Rohingya, a largely stateless Muslim group in Burma’s far west that the U.N. calls one of the world’s most persecuted people. The communal bloodshed has spread to central Burma, where Wirathu, 46, lives and preaches his virulent sermons. The radical monk sees Muslims, who make up at least 5% of Burma’s estimated 60 million people, as a threat to the country and its culture. “[Muslims] are breeding so fast, and they are stealing our women, raping them,” he tells me. “They would like to occupy our country, but I won’t let them. We must keep Myanmar Buddhist.”

Such hate speech threatens the delicate political ecosystem in a country peopled by at least 135 ethnic groups that has only recently been unshackled from nearly half a century of military rule. Already some government officials are calling for implementation of a ban, rarely enforced during the military era, on Rohingya women’s bearing more than two children. And many Christians in the country’s north say recent fighting between the Burmese military and Kachin insurgents, who are mostly Christian, was exacerbated by the widening religious divide.
Radical Buddhism is thriving in other parts of Asia too. This year in Sri Lanka, Buddhist nationalist groups with links to high-ranking officialdom have gained prominence, with monks helping orchestrate the destruction of Muslim and Christian property. And in Thailand’s deep south, where a Muslim insurgency has claimed some 5,000 lives since 2004, the Thai army trains civilian militias and often accompanies Buddhist monks when they leave their temples. The commingling of soldiers and monks–some of whom have armed themselves–only heightens the alienation felt by Thailand’s minority Muslims.
Although each nation’s history dictates the course radical Buddhism has taken within its borders, growing access to the Internet means that prejudice and rumors are instantly inflamed with each Facebook post or tweet. Violence can easily spill across borders. In Malaysia, where hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrants work, several Buddhist Burmese were killed in June–likely in retribution, Malaysian authorities say, for the deaths of Muslims back in Burma.
In the reckoning of religious extremism–Hindu nationalists, Muslim militants, fundamentalist Christians, ultra-Orthodox Jews–Buddhism has largely escaped trial. To much of the world, it is synonymous with nonviolence and loving kindness, concepts propagated by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, 2,500 years ago. But like adherents of any other religion, Buddhists and their holy men are not immune to politics and, on occasion, the lure of sectarian chauvinism. When Asia rose up against empire and oppression, Buddhist monks, with their moral command and plentiful numbers, led anticolonial movements. Some starved themselves for their cause, their sunken flesh and protruding ribs underlining their sacrifice for the laity. Perhaps most iconic is the image of Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk sitting in the lotus position, wrapped in flames, as he burned to death in Saigon while protesting the repressive South Vietnamese regime 50 years ago. In 2007, Buddhist monks led a foiled democratic uprising in Burma: images of columns of clerics bearing upturned alms bowls, marching peacefully in protest against the junta, earned sympathy around the world, if not from the soldiers who slaughtered them. But where does political activism end and political militancy begin? Every religion can be twisted into a destructive force poisoned by ideas that are antithetical to its foundations. Now it’s Buddhism’s turn.
Mantra of Hate
Sitting cross-legged on a raised platform at the New Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay, next to a wall covered by life-size portraits of himself, the Burmese bin Laden expounds on his worldview. U.S. President Barack Obama has “been tainted by black Muslim blood.” Arabs have hijacked the U.N., he believes, although he sees no irony in linking his name to that of an Arab terrorist. About 90% of Muslims in Burma are “radical, bad people,” says Wirathu, who was jailed for seven years for his role in inciting anti-Muslim pogroms in 2003. He now leads a movement called 969–the figure represents various attributes of the Buddha–which calls on Buddhists to fraternize only among themselves and shun people of other faiths. “Taking care of our own religion and race is more important than democracy,” says Wirathu.
It would be easy to dismiss Wirathu as an outlier with little doctrinal basis for his bigotry. But he is charismatic and powerful, and his message resonates. Among the country’s majority Bamar ethnic group, as well as across Buddhist parts of Asia, there’s a vague sense that their religion is under siege–that Islam, having centuries ago conquered the Buddhist lands of Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, now seeks new territory. Even without proof, Buddhist nationalists stoke fears that local Muslim populations are increasing faster than their own, and they worry about Middle Eastern money pouring in to build new mosques.
In Burma, the democratization process that began in 2011 with the junta’s giving way to a quasi-civilian government has also allowed extremist voices to proliferate. The trouble began last year in the far west, where machete-wielding Buddhist hordes attacked Rohingya villages; 70 Muslims were slaughtered in a daylong massacre in one hamlet, according to Human Rights Watch. The government has done little to check the violence, which has since migrated to other parts of the country. In late March, the central town of Meikhtila burned for days, with entire Muslim quarters razed by Buddhist mobs after a monk was killed by Muslims. (The official death toll: two Buddhists and at least 40 Muslims.) Thousands of Muslims are still crammed into refugee camps that journalists are forbidden to enter. In the shadow of a burned-down mosque, I was able to meet the family of Abdul Razak Shahban, one of at least 20 students at a local Islamic school who were killed. “My son was killed because he was Muslim, nothing else,” Razak’s mother Rahamabi told me.
Temple and State
In the deep south of Burma’s neighbor Thailand, it is the Buddhists who complain of being targeted for their faith. This part of the country used to be part of a Malay sultanate before staunchly Buddhist Thailand annexed it early last century, and Muslims make up at least 80% of the population. Since a separatist insurgency intensified in 2004, many Buddhists have been targeted because their positions–such as teachers, soldiers and government workers–are linked with the Thai state. Dozens of monks have been attacked too. Now the Buddhists have overwhelming superiority in arms: the Thai military and other security forces have moved into the wat, as Thai Buddhist temples are known.
If Buddhists feel more protected by the presence of soldiers in their temples, it sends quite another signal to the Muslim population. “[The] state is wedding religion to the military,” says Michael Jerryson, an assistant professor of religious studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio and author of a book about Buddhism’s role in the southern-Thailand conflict. Muslims too are scared: more of them have perished in the violence than Buddhists. (By proportion of population, more Buddhists have died, however.) Yet Buddhists are the ones who receive the greater state protection, and I listen to monk after monk heighten tensions by telling me that Muslims are using mosques to store weapons or that every imam carries a gun. “Islam is a religion of violence,” says Phratong Jiratamo, a former marine turned monk in the town of Pattani. “Everyone knows this.”
It’s a sentiment the Burmese bin Laden would endorse. I ask Wirathu how he reconciles the peaceful sutras of his faith with the anti-Muslim violence spreading across his Bamar-majority homeland. “In Buddhism, we are not allowed to go on the offensive,” he tells me, as if he is lecturing a child. “But we have every right to protect and defend our community.” Later, as he preaches to an evening crowd, I listen to him compel smiling housewives, students, teachers, grandmothers and others to repeat after him, “I will sacrifice myself for the Bamar race.” It’s hard to imagine that the Buddha would have approved.
– Time-

The KIO and Kachin communities “are one”

Kachin leaders back UN involvement

By Myanmar Times June 03, ’13

Members of the Kachin community have asked Vijay Nambiar to help increase international involvement in Myanmar’s peace process during a meeting in Myitkyina last week.

Kachin representatives met Mr Nambiar, the special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Myanmar, on May 29, during the rest day in peace talks between the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). Mr Nambiar was an observer at the talks, which concluded with the signing of a seven-point agreement on May 30.

At the meeting Myitkyina resident Daw Jar Sai Khum said international help was needed to resolve the conflict in Kachin State.
“I think you can understand very well that this conflict has been running since the country became independent more than 64 years ago,” she said. “Ethnic groups around Myanmar are trying to solve the problems within our communities and regions but we cannot manage all of this ourselves.
“It is clear to me that the international community needs to play a role in solving these conflicts.”
Kachin people urged Mr Nambiar to monitor the conflict until a fair solution was found. They also asked him to raise the issue of Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts in the UN Security Council and encourage other members of the international community to take part in the peace process.
Representatives also told Mr Nambiar that the KIO and Kachin communities “are one”.
‘’We want the UN to help as much as it can,” said 81-year-old Daw Innfan Jar Yar. “The government and KIO have held peace talks many times but so far there has not been any positive outcome.
“We suffer the terrible impacts of the conflict,” she said, adding that a political solution was needed. “We want to get [a] federal [system] at once. We don’t want to wait any more to get it.”
The Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA) published a statement before Mr Nambiar’s visit and this was presented to him at the meeting. The statement included nine points on the conflict and alleged that the government “consistently ignores the ethnic rights that ethnic nationalities have been demanding, or intentionally stalls and gives excuses”.
The statement said that past meetings have not been successful in part because international monitoring groups have not been involved and called for these groups to be involved in future talks.
Mr Nambiar said at the meeting that the UN is supporting and facilitating peace talks and that those talks were being watched closely around the world.
“Every one of you has an aspiration, an expectation … and an experience. But any political solution that comes will not satisfy everybody in all respects,” Mr Nambiar said.
“I have no doubt that the UN and KIO, as well as the Kachin people and Myanmar people, will see the peace process move forward,” he said.