Ethnic activists share views on ‘Terrorist’ vote

On November 20, four of Burma’s ethnic armed groups – the Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – launched coordinated military offensives against Burma military outposts and police stations in the areas of Muse, Namkham and Kutkai in northern Shan State.

Clashes have now been continuous for more than two weeks in the China-Burma border region. Almost 20 lives have been lost in the fighting, including civilians, and more than 50 people have been injured. Thousands of locals have fled their homes to escape being caught in the crossfire; many have crossed the border and are currently sheltering on Chinese territory.  

Earlier this week, Aung Thu, an MP from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), submitted a proposal to the Shan State government, declaring that the four militias, who now call themselves the “Northern Alliance,” should be collectively classified as a terrorist organization. The motion was approved narrowly by a vote in the Taunggyi assembly on November 7.

But what are the effects of labeling the group “terrorists”? What are the likely consequences, and could it make matters worse for those living in the affected region? Shan Herald spoke to several local activists and asked their opinions.

“The Tatmadaw should also be labeled ‘terrorists’,” said Lway Cherry, joint general-secretary of the Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO). “This is exactly what they have been doing to maintain power in the country since 1962. They have continuously launched offensives in ethnic territories; but here they are accusing and killing the ethnic people and the rebels. Ethnic women have been tortured and raped. Their houses and villages have been destroyed, causing villagers to flee their homes. This kind of action is what I call ‘terrorist.’

“During the 1988 uprising, many students were tortured and killed by Burmese troops. A similar thing happened to Buddhist monks during the Saffron Revolution of 2007. That’s why I regard the Burmese armed forces as terrorists. At the same time, any armed group that abuses civilians should be listed as a terrorist organization.

“Labeling ethnic groups as terrorists will not solve the problem. In order to bring about peace, every group should be included in the negotiations.”

Moon Nay Li, the general-secretary of Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), echoed Lway Cherry’s view that it is in fact Burma’s government forces that should be labeled a ‘terrorist group’.

“Burmese soldiers rape women wherever they go,” she said. “They kill and torture ethnic people wherever they go. Innocent people including women, children and the elderly have been killed or forced to work as porters. Their properties have been looted; their houses burnt down. Even students in uniform were shot dead. All of these crimes were committed by Burmese troops, and never were they held to account.

“Now we have a period of peace-making. Each armed group must begin the process of trust-building by laying down their arms, and forcing the others to do likewise. And they must each show respect to ethnic people as per the terms of the Panglong agreement.”

Ying Harn Fa, the spokesperson for the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), contends that any armed group that violates the country’s laws should be classified as a terrorist organization.

“However, as to whether the Northern Alliance are terrorists, this matter has been discussed and rejected in the Union Parliament during a lower house session on 2 December. That’s why it was brought up at a state level. As for us [SWAN], we objected to the proposal.

“Everyone knows we [Shan people] have been oppressed by the Burmese military for over 60 years. It is they who advanced into our territory, not the other way around. They destroyed our property; they killed and raped our people. The ethnic armed groups do not routinely abuse their own people. If they are considered ‘terrorists,’ then the Tatmadaw must also be terrorists.

“If we begin referring to each other as ‘terrorists,’ they will no peace in Burma. It will destroy the process of national reconciliation.”

On the other hand, Khuensai, the managing director of the Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue (PI), told us that he believes there is no need for concern.

“The state government has no power to make laws regarding terrorism,” he said. “Just as it has no authority over home affairs, foreign affairs and legislature. Therefore, even though the Shan State government approved a motion describing the four armed groups as terrorists, it will not be mandated by law.

“We have to ask those who raised this issue why they did it,” he continued. “Perhaps the reason is to frighten civilians and other ethnic armed groups.
“Secondly, they can now push the Union Government to mandate the issue. A terrorism law was drafted in 2014 at a union level, but time will tell whether the decision made by the Shan state government will have an impact at a union level. We’ll have to keep an eye on it.

“I want to say that, for now, the decision made at Shan State level is not law, so we do not need to be over-concerned.”

Finally, Sai Lek, the spokesperson for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), questioned how a proposal that had already been discussed at a union level could then be brought to state level for approval.

“This has never happened before,” he said.

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Commentary on " Still searching for peace"

The two-pronged different approach in realizing the peace process is the main failure that reconciliation and political settlement have not been able to be achieved.

Aung San Suu Kyi strives for all-inclusivity, but hampered by Tatmadaw's non-inclusive policy and implementation on the ground. Suu Kyi has no say, whatsoever, in the military's sidelining of the MNDAA, TNLA and AA, as defense and border affairs are military's responsible ministries, besides having a veto say in the parliament for being allotted with 25% unelected MP seats.

In the end, Suu Kyi has to pretend that she agreed to the Tatmadaw's way of doing things. There is a saying in Burmese: "Chaw Lyae Yaw Htaing"; meaning: pretending to look like sitting down, when in fact he or she has fallen or accidentally slipped, so as to save face. There can't be other explanation for her behavior, other than that she becomes a victim of "Stockholm syndrome".

But if she chooses not to deviate from her original conviction of all-inclusiveness, the Tatmadaw is employing military pressure to goad the non-signatory EAOs like KIA to sign the NCA.

This has backfired as could be seen by the Northern Alliance fighting back, bring the war to the Tatmadaw and not waiting for its attacks.

The military now would need to change its mindset and conform to the political lead of the NLD regime – provided it refused to let the military hijacked its noble conformity to all-inclusiveness - and not the opposite, if the peace process is still to be saved or salvaged.

Link to the story : Still searching for peace

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Tatmadaw's illusion of sovereignty ownership a catch-22 situation?

Even though the union parliament has rejected the labeling the Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B), made up of Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), that have launched an offensive on Tatmadaw or military and police outposts in Muse Township, northern Shan State along the Burma-China border, on 20 December, the Shan State parliament decided to do just that – tagging the NA-B members as terrorist organizations, on 7 December.

The NA-B launched an offensive on Tatmadaw's positons employing the strategy of “offensive is the best defensive”, while also showing their displeasure of the military side-lining of its members to participate in the peace process, which the government seems unable to do anything against it.

As if it was a well orchestrated undertaking, simultaneously, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing told the officers at the North-Eastern Military Command that the NA-B terrorist must be hunted down and uprooted that have challenged the Tatmadaw and disrupted public peace and economy.

The implication is that this actually could be seen as an assault on the whole peace process, which the National League for Democracy (NLD) government is trying to facilitate and lead, aiming to hold a Union Peace Conference - 21st Century Panglong, in  February next year, in an all-inclusive atmosphere, as much as possible, according to its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee's (UPDJC) Joint Secretary (1) Sai Kyaw Nyunt recently told the DVB that since the KIA is a member of Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), an organ of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a seven member ethnic military alliance, actively involving in negotiation with the government, the peace process future could be in jeopardy and even been derailed.

Although proclaiming an organization a terrorist group is strictly within the domain of the President and the government and the Shan State Parliament affirmative motion to consider the NA-B members terrorist organizations wouldn't have much influence on government's policy-making and implementation. But it did showed the Tatmadaw's radical and animosity attitude on the NA-B. And this could be translated into an all-out  war, which has been ongoing since 2011, against most groups operating within Kachin and Shan States.

Daung Khar, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), on 8 December, told the BBC that the now damaged or destroyed peace process is due to the government-military's forceful goading and hammering in of the ethnic armies into their desired mode, to achieve result according to its prescription.

He further stressed that that this has resulted in an about-turn situation of the Burma's political situation, making the ethnic nationalities lose trust on the Tatmadaw,  Aung San Suu Kyi and the government.

The whole situation is like “the pot calling the kettle black”, one Shan State Progress Party's (SSPP) leader told this writer, or better it is more of a catch-22 situation, if you like.

The pot calling the kettle black is simple enough, as the Tatmadaw with its decades-long well documented human rights violations in ethnic states by the reputed rights organizations and United Nations, which are still ongoing, to call the NA-B destroying public facilities and bringing hardships to the livelihood of the civilian, deserved to be called terrorists. Apart from that, no one is coming out much better off from the collateral damage done by warring parties, to be fair.

The catch-22 is a situation, which stems from straitjacket that the military has knitted for itself. It maintained that it wants peaceful co-existence and at the same time wants to be the sole protector of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity.

On the other hand, the NA-B including all ethnic resistance armies, plus ethnic political parties, are for the shared national sovereignty, territorial integrity and maintaining national unity, not just the sole ownership and domain of the Tatmadaw, or for that matter – the NLD government also.

But the problem is the Tatmadaw cannot accept the political aspirations of the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities and their just struggle for equal share on all the said norms or issues surrounding the country. So the Tatmadaw is convinced that it has to fight the ethnic armies, which contradict its own commitment of achieving an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence. Thus, the fight goes on and on, with no way to achieve a negotiated settlement, which only hinges on its ability to compromise. In other words, as equal negotiation partners and as well acceptance that shared-sovereignty is the key to fruitful peace process.

In sum, calling the ethnic armies terrorists and continue wearing the straitjacket of sole responsible protector of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and perpetuating national unity. Indulging in blame game, implementing total annihilation policy on the ethnic armies will just bring the country into a further mess and disintegration, where only rational sense and accommodation will pull the country out from the present down-slide into abyss of no return.

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Eastern Shan party will not contest by-elections

The Eastern Shan State Development Democratic Party (ESSDDP) has said that it will not contest the upcoming bi-elections, which are slated to be held on April 1 next year.

Sai Sam Tip Hsur, the vice chairman of the ESSDDP, which was formed shortly before the 2015 general election, told Shan Herald that his party had decided not to list candidates for the 2017 by-elections because of a breakdown in cooperation with its sister parties, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP).

“I am sure we will not be able to win in eastern Shan State if we [three Shan parties] do not unite,” he said. “Both the SNLD and the SNDP will contest [the same constituencies]. I believe that if we do not cooperate, we will all lose.

“If we believe that our nationality is the priority, we must cooperate,” Sai Sam Tip Hsur emphasized. "No whether which party wins – whether it is the SNDP or the SNLD – the outcome is that we all [Shan nationals] win.”

He added: “I am sure that every Tai [Shan] loves his or her national identity. However, if we continue to hold prejudices against one another, we are going to lose.

“No one need beat us; we will lose the elections by ourselves.”

The three ethnic Shan-based parties lost every seat in eastern Shan State to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the general election last year.

The SNDP, also known as the White Tiger Party, had contested 207 seats in 68 townships in Kachin State, Kayah State and Shan State, as well as Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions. However, it won only one State Assembly seat in Mong Pan Township. The SNLD, which won a convincing victory in Shan State in the 1990 elections, won a total of just 40 seats in last November’s elections.

Both SNDP and SNLD confirmed that they would contest all available seats in the by-election next year. 

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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Shan State govt proclaims Northern Alliance ‘terrorists’

The Shan State government passed a proposal today at an emergency meeting to categorize the Northern Alliance as a “terrorist organization.”

The motion was proposed yesterday by Aung Thu, an MP from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) representing Lashio Township, and was brought forward for debate and a vote today. The proposal that the ethnic coalition be deemed a terrorist group could effectively disenfranchise it from other parties and armed groups in the region. The motion passed by 63 votes in favor to 45 objections.

Speaking to Shan Herald after the emergency assembly session in state capital Taunggyi, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) MP Nang San San Aye said, “This motion had been proposed at a union level and failed. That is why it was brought before us here [Shan State government] today. It was passed because they [USDP] have more representatives in the parliament. That’s why they won.”

She pointed out that 20 MPs did not attend the parliamentary session and therefore did not vote.
“As for us [SNLD MPs], we objected to the initial motion to debate the proposal in the state assembly,” Nang San San Aye said. “However, they could not find an alternative to proclaiming them [Northern Alliance] terrorists.”

She concluded: “I’m afraid that by doing this, it will make things worse.”

Deputy Defence Minister Gen. Sein Win had earlier submitted a similar proposal during a lower house of parliament session in Naypyidaw on December 2.  The proposal was rejected.

Since November 20, four ethnic armed groups – Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – began launching coordinated attacks on Burmese military positions in the areas of Muse, Namkham and Kutkai townships. Last week, the coalition began referring to itself as the “Northern Alliance.”

Khun Tun Oo, the chairman of the SNLD, the second largest political party in the Shan State government, said that labeling the Alliance a terrorist group will ultimately destroy the peace process. He echoed his colleague Nang San San Aye’s sentiment that today’s decision will only makes things worse.

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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Civilians beaten, shot by govt troops in Lashio: SHRF

Three villagers were badly beaten while another was shot by Burmese government troops during recent military maneuvers in Lashio Township, according to local watchdog Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF).

Photo SHRF: three victim villagers who were beaten by Burmese army.
In its report on December 6, SHRF said the first incident occurred at about 8am on November 13, when a Burmese army unit, Light Infantry Battalion 119, stopped over in the village of Wan Koong Pao, Ei Nai tract, in the Mong Yen area of Lashio district.

Three villagers ­– identified as Lung Hla Win, aged 64, Sai Nyunt, 25, and Sai Tun, 16 – were accused of trying to pass information to Shan rebels, and were badly beaten.

“They were speaking loudly because Lung Hla Win is hard of hearing. They were talking about travelling to Mong Yen,” said the report. “Some Burmese soldiers accused them of trying to pass information to Shan rebels, detailing the Burmese troops’ movements so they could lay landmines along the route. So the soldiers beat them up.”

Then on November 16, a villager named Sai Ai Hsai, 40, from Mong Yen area, was reportedly shot in the right thigh by a soldier from Burmese army Battalion 69 while he was returning home from the jungle. He was taken to Lashio hospital for treatment.

“People here have been oppressed for a long time,” said Sai Hor Hseng, the spokesperson for SHRF. “When they [the Burmese army] come to these villages, they arbitrarily torture people and do anything they want. They do not protect civilians; instead, they threaten them.”

Sai Hor Hseng said that even though the country is now run by a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), human rights violations are continuing.

The military continues to abuse villagers in any way they want, he said, while the government appears powerless to stop them.

“These four villagers did not get any compensation,” said Sai Hor Hseng. “Nor did the soldiers involved receive any punishment.”

He added: “These four villagers were lucky to survive.”

According to a 2015-16 Amnesty International annual report: “Members of the [Burmese] security forces continued to violate human rights with near-total impunity. Investigations into human rights violations by the security forces were rare, and when they did occur they lacked transparency and independence.

“Perpetrators were seldom held to account. Victims and their families continued to be denied their rights to justice, truth and reparation.”

The report concluded: “State officials, including members of the security forces, remained protected from prosecution for past human rights violations by immunity provisions in the 2008 Constitution.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 230,000 people in Burma have become internally displaced across the country since 2015. About 100,000 of these IDPs fled from conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states.

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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TAKING STOCK: The peace process after five years

As the Thein Sein regime initiated peace process, which started out on 17 August 2011, entered into the fifth year and the partially signed Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) a little more than one year old – its first anniversary just celebrated on 15 October 2016 -, many started to wonder, where it is heading and if this noble initiative is really making sense from the point of national reconciliation and state-building, especially in the wake of recent furious armed clashes that has happened along the Burma-China border, around Muse Township, in northern Shan State.

Let us look at the whole peace process of this some five years, four under the Thein Sein government and some nine months now under the NLD regime, headed by its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, that has inherited it from its predecessor.

In order to do this, let us dwell on the premises of NCA, as both the Thein Sein and Suu Kyi governments have made it a cornerstone and guiding principles to achieve the desired result that would usher the country its people to a new harmonious political system that all could live with, fulfilling national reconciliation and most importantly, a durable political settlement along ethnic lines and diverse political aspirations of the major stakeholders.

Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) text, agreed on 6 August and signed on 31 October 2015, has a preamble and seven chapters, with 33 clauses and 86 sub-clauses containing 104 specific provisions and running to twelve pages in the English version. Key provisions are: Preamble, Basic principle, Aims and Objectives, Ceasefire Related Matters, Maintaining and Strengthening Ceasefire, Guarantees for Political Dialogue and Future Tasks, and Miscellaneous.

The International Crisis Group's (ICG) report of 16 September 2015, just prior to the signing of NCA, correctly spelled out the challenges which the negotiators would face ahead, which are still valid today after one year of inking the agreement. It said:  “Finalization of a draft NCA text was a significant step but meant as only the first in the process, with long, difficult political dialogue needed before a comprehensive peace agreement – the “Union Accord” – could be reached. Many of the most challenging issues, including what form of federalism might be envisaged, how revenue sharing would be done and the future status of the armed groups and their possible integration into the military were deferred to the political dialogue. So too were some technical military issues on ceasefire monitoring and code of conduct”

The report further pin-pointed the agreement's weakness and difficulties in implementing it on the ground, concluding with perhaps a possible ray of false hope that it might as well succeed. The report stated: “Thus the text is neither a classic ceasefire agreement – many of the military issues such as force separation, demarcation and verification are vague, or not included, or would require further agreement to come into force – nor is it a political agreement, as it references many political issues but defers detailed discussion. This hybrid status reflects the genesis of the document and the diverse set of actors and priorities around the peace table, as well as political constraints. As a ceasefire document, this means it is very weak, but as experts have pointed out, this does not mean the peace process cannot succeed, as there are many examples of comprehensive peace accords being negotiated while fighting continued.”

In sum, it could be said that the NCA is not only concerned with ceasefire alone but also issues relating to the formation of future political system formation, although nothing is quite clear on how to go about with it, at the moment, given the convoluted nature of the contemporary political landscape.

How NCA is managed

Looking at the chart flow on NCA management, one would see Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) is the highest organ that delegates the Joint Monitoring Committee – Union-level (JMC-U) regarding ceasefire implementation and Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) responsible for political dialogue and directing the whole peace process undertaking.

JICM is made up of two groups with 8 members each. One is the government, parliament and military combined and the other the signatory EAOs.

The JMC-U is made up of three groups. The two groups with 10 members each are the government, parliament and military combined and the other, the signatory EAOs. In addition, 3 civilian representatives each chosen by the military and the signatory EAOs, making 6 altogether also are included.

The UPDJC is made up of three groups, each with 16 members. The three groups are the government, parliament and military combined, the signatory EAOs, and political parties. It is the highest organ in directing the country’s political dialogue, including the convening of Union Peace Conference (UPC) or 21st Century Panglong.

The actual signing of NCA

On 15 October 8 EAOs signed the NCA in Naypyitaw, while the rest that made up 13 others refused to sign. The official count of the EAOs is 21, while the government only recognized 15 altogether.

They are Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Chin National Front (CNF),  Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Karen Peace Council (KPC), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Karen National Union (KNU), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), which are Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) members that have signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government and invited to sign the NCA.

The only NCCT member that has no ceasefire agreement with the government, but invited to sign the NCA is the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

The non-NCCT members that have bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government and invited to sign the NCA are All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and United Wa State Army (UWSA).

EAOs that have no bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government and not invited to sign the NCA are Arakan Army (AA), Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Wa National Organization (WNO).

These 6 excluded EAOs are members of the UNFC, a 12 ethnic armies alliance, which since the signing of NCA some of its original members like the KNU has opted to suspend – not resign – its membership, while the CNF and PNLO were expelled. In addition, the MNDAA and TNLA have asked for resignation but the UNFC has not taken decision on the issue up to this days.  Thus, the actual membership count of the UNFC is not clear, although to date many referred to it as a 7 member ethnic army alliance.

The NCA signatories are ABSDF, ALP, CNF, DKBA, KNLA-PC, KNU, PNLO and RCSS

The NCCT was a negotiation body of the EAOs, prior to the NCA signing, which had 16 EAOs as members.

Reasons for not signing the NCA

The reasons for the UNFC not signing the NCA has been the government rejection to accept 6 of its members, while other non-signatories that are not UNFC members like UWSA, NDAA and NSCN-K have their own doubtfulness and reasons, one way or the other.

The UWSA aspires to achieve the status of a statehood within the union and is not yet satisfied with the recent status of Self-Administrative Division. The NDAA or Mong La, on the other hand, dreams of achieving an Akha Self-Administrative Zone.

The Wa, who already has the highest degree of self-administration in practical sense, where even the government's troops cannot even enter without permission, simply doesn't see more profit to be gained from signing the NCA. Mong La being the UWSA ally, also sees the situation more or less the same.

As for the NSCN-K, its goal is to carve out a political entity from Burma and India and doesn't see any meaningful approach through signing the NCA.

As for the UNFC not going along with the inking of the agreement hinged on the exclusion of its members and explained by the KNU Vice-President Naw Zipporah Sein – oddly enough, whose organization is a leading proponent that signed the NCA - in a written text titled “A brief NCA history, the NCA’s flaws and failings”, dated 14 January 2016, as: “The government refused to allow three of the 16 EAOs, represented by the NCCT and the Senior Delegation (SD), to sign the NCA. These three are the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) – also known as TNLA, the Arakan Army (AA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). There was also a second group of three organizations that the government also refused to allow on grounds that they did not have a significant number of troops. They are the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), the Wa National Organization (WNO) and the Arakan National Congress (ANC). At the time, the three EAOs in the first group were facing government’s massive military offensives.”

She further wrote: “It is clearly stated in the last chapter of NCA that the NCA shall be signed by representatives from the government and representatives from the EAOs, as well as the international representatives and domestic personages, as witnesses. Nonetheless, the government continued to refuse the signing of the NCA by the 6 groups mentioned above. Out of the 7 countries proposed, the government also refused three international would-be witnesses, representing the US, UK and Norway to sign the NCA.”

As a result, on the 15th of October 2015, 8 EAOs repudiated the EAOs Summit Meeting decisions and agreed to sign the NCA with the government. The other 7 EAOs refused to sign, and a total of 6 were not allowed to sign.

The majority of the EAOs were irked and felt betrayed by the 8 signatories of the NCA, as the Laiza and Law Khee Lar conferences of the EAOs were to undertake the signing of agreement together.

The following statement from a paragraph of the “Conference of Ethnic Armed Resistance Organizations Law Khee Lar, Kawthoolei “ from January 20 – 25, 2014 stated:

This Law Khee Lar Conference, held under the aegis of KNU as the host, in addition to consolidating unity of all the ethnic nationalities, serves as an arena for preparing them, for different stages of political dialogues and negotiations that will come after achievement of nationwide ceasefire. The ethnic armed resistance organizations are to participate in the political dialogues and negotiations, with unity and coordination, and they will have to struggle on until their political goal of establishment of a Genuine Federal Union is achieved.

Ongoing wars on non-signatory EAOs and signatory EAOs

With the EAOs divided between the signatory and non-signatory groups, tension arose politically and militarily.

However, the hardened political stance dissipated as signatory and non-signatory EAOs began to cooperate to position or act as a bloc or group, after the Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) Plenary Meeting in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin Independence Organization’s (KIO) controlled town near Chinese border, took place from 26 to 30 July.

Militarily, shortly after the signing of NCA in October last year, the signatory RCSS reinforced its units in northern Shan State, leading to protracted armed confrontation between itself and the TNLA. The TNLA accused the RCSS of intruding into its territories and that it was in league with the Burma Army, but the latter denied that it was the case.

To complicate the matter, the Burma Army attacked the RCSS several times during the year in Kyaukme and Hsipaw Townships and the latest one being this year in October, in Mong Kung Township where the RCSS accused the Burma Army of breaching the NCA.

The on and off military engagements between the EAOs and the Burma Army occurred all through out the year, in Shan and Kachin States, from 2011 until today.

But serious bouts of conflict happened during 2015 and 2016. Outstanding among them were the well publicized conflict in Shan State between the MNDAA and government troops in Kokang area, in February 2015, which was particularly intense from February to June that year and again in October 2015; and the recent 20 November, Northern Alliance-Burma (NA-B) offensives along the Burma-China border against the government positions. By 5 December, the ethnic alliance was said to have withdrawn from its siege of Mong Ko, where the government troops had put up a stiff resistance, using air strikes and artillery bombardment hitting many civilian targets. But elsewhere the fighting goes on in northern Shan State, which might still go on for quite a while.

The NA-B, made up of KIA, MNDAA, TNLA and AA were said to have launched the offensives, to employ the strategy of “offensive is the best defensive”, as the Burma Army has been conducting heavy attacks on the the KIA and NA-B members in Kachin and Shan States, since three months ago. Other than that they also wanted to send the message that excluding them from the peace process won't achieve the desired political outcome and that they are a force to be reckoned with.

There have also been clashes between government forces and the SSA-North, of particular intensity from October to November 2015 and in August 2016.

In Karen State, clashes in July 2015 and again from August to September 2016 between a renegade faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and government troops together with Border Guard Force soldiers were reported.

In summary, the Burma Army has been in an offensive mode and war-footing against all the non-signatory EAOs in  the Kachin and Shan States, but remarkably, also attacking the RCSS an NCA signatory and intruding into the KNU territories, while going after the DKBA splinter group. KNU is also an NCA signatory.


Given such circumstances, the whole peace process spanning some five years should be viewed and assessed from the point of NCA implementation organs' performance, players or stakeholders political outlook and initiatives, the actual challenges the country is facing and possible remedies to break the deadlock.

The performance of the NCA implementation organs, which are JMC-U and UPDJC could be said as unsatisfactory, even though some might argue otherwise.

The first ever investigation carried out by the JMC regarding the armed clashes between the RCSS and Burma Army, which occurred in Mong Kung Township, said that the troops from both sides have no in-depth understanding of NCA, no contact with each other and no clear understanding on each others operational area.

The JMC investigation team is said to be formed with two civilian, two Tatmadaw and two RCSS representatives. Reportedly, it has suggested that aside from generally promoting better understanding between the RCSS and the Tatmadaw, drugs related crimes should be tackled cooperatively in coordination and the need to draw up demarcation lines for both troops to observe.

Thus it could be said even though JMC State-level could be formed in Shan and Karen states, implementing and understanding NCA for the troops is still rudimentary and on top of that demarcation lines for troops movement and stationing have not even started yet, after one year of NCA signing.  In short the JMC still needs a long way to go to be really effective.

The ongoing talks between the UNFC and the government's Peace commission also includes the strengthening of the JMC, where international experts' participation in ceasefire monitoring and also enforcement mechanism should be incorporated, which so far has been given a cold shoulder by the military on the proposal.

While JMC covers only the NCA signatory EAOs, the armed engagement with the non-signatories EAOs is solely the domain of Burma Army or defense ministry, which are exacerbating with its offensive wars in northern Shan and Kachin states.

As for the UPDJC performance being unable to conduct the peace process without having an all-inclusiveness is the biggest obstacle, as it would be only able to preside over limited state-level political dialogue, which is supposed to give crucial inputs to the union-level political dialogue or Union Peace Conference - 21st Century Panglong, as it is now officially dubbed by the NLD regime.

As areas that have not been covered by the NCA won't be able to conduct political dialogue, the inputs could not be all-encompassing, which in effect would mean the peace conference would only partially represent the population and that is not the intention of the Union Peace Conference.

Aung San Suu Kyi, as chairperson of the UPDJC and as well the National Reconciliation Peace Center (NRPC), is committed to a rigid time-frame and is determined to carry on the peace process with only the 8 EAOs, plus other stakeholders that are already part of the process. Her logic seems to be that in time the remaining EAOs would join in and eventually the idea of excluding the three EAOs would be accepted. But this has already been proven wrong, as could be seen by the recent NA-B offensives on the Burma Army positions.

As for the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the military posture of “a state within a state”, combined with upholding the military-drafted constitution would continue to be the norm and continued military supremacy in political arena would be maintained. People should not be confused with the military making use of Aung San Suu Kyi to gain international acceptance and legitimacy. 

The NCA signatory EAOs are torn between having to go along with the powers that be, for whatever purpose the individual members might have in store, and moral conviction to be in solidarity with the non-signatories of the NCA.

The NCA non-signatory EAOs, especially the UNFC, continues to bargain with the government on its 8 point proposal, which centers around, bilateral nationwide ceasefire, tripartite dialogue composition and commitment to the building of the genuine federal union, including all-inclusiveness of all EAOs in the peace process, even though not explicitly mentioned in the proposal.

The recent NA-B offensives on Burma Army positions could now have a negative impact for the UNFC negotiation with the government, as KIA, which is also UNFC leading member, is part of the NA-B.

The actual challenges facing the country are:

  • Firstly, the ongoing armed engagements and tensions between the EAOs and the Burma Army, including communal violence and the uprising of Rohingya, dubbed as Bengali by the government, in Arakan State;
  • Secondly, the government of NLD and the military power relation or problematic two-tier administrative structure;
  • Thirdly, the power and resources sharing within the ethnic states;
  • Fourthly, due to the ongoing wars and violence some 120,000 refugees fleeing across the borders and more than 662,400 inside the border as IDPs;
  • Fifthly, from 1962 to 2010, successive military governments confiscation of hundreds and thousands of acres of land from farmers all over the country; and
  • Finally, the superpower and regional power relationship, among others.

In order to overcome and tackle all the said woes and problems, the best place to start is countering the prevailing “depleted trust” atmosphere by initiating a “trust-building” initiative. And to do this the following mindset alteration, specifically from the part of the government and military might be necessary.

  • The genuine wish and commitment to be equal with all negotiation partners and not a patron-client relationship;
  • Practicing and believing in a real joint-ownership of the peace process and not just lip-service;
  • Bridging the differing concept, by accepting a common denominator that the country is a newly formed political entity voluntarily formed between ethnic states as the “Union of Burma”, after the British left in 1948 and they gained a joint-independence; and
  • A real political will and belief in peaceful co-existence and durable political settlement.

If the above suggested measures could be accepted, we all will be in a position to stop the ongoing armed ethnic conflict, create a peaceful atmosphere conducive to the peace process and eventually overcome all the woes that the country is now facing. Otherwise, we will be stuck up in a make-believe illusion and false believe of doing a noble deed by holding another 21st Century Panglong Conference, which is neither all-encompassing nor all-inclusive.

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Shan State govt calls emergency meeting

The Shan State government has convened an emergency meeting in state capital Taunggyi following two weeks of intense fighting in northern Shan State between Burmese government forces and a coalition of four ethnic armed groups known as the Northern Alliance.

According to Shan State Chief Minister Dr. Linn Htut, MPs will discuss the circumstances and effects of the ongoing conflict, as well as the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year and development issues.

Speaking at a parliamentary session of the lower house in Naypyidaw on December 2, Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe said that the so-called Northern Alliance – comprising the Arakan Army (AA); Kachin Independence Army (KIA); Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA); and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – should be classified as a terrorist organization in accordance with the law.
The Shan State assembly has begun the discussions on that issue on Monday. Although parliamentary details are yet to be announced, the debate is scheduled to last four days.
The recent conflict was ignited after the ethnic alliance launched coordinated offensives against Burmese army and police outposts on November 20. Thereafter, clashes have broken out in the Muse Township villages of 105-Mile, Mong Koe and Parng Zai, as well as in Namkham and Kutkai townships.
Hostilities have intensified, particularly in Mong Koe, a town on the Shan-China border. According to a statement published on December 5 by the Northern Alliance, the Burmese military launched offensives using heavy weapons including airstrikes by fighter jets in residential areas. The ethnic militias claim that schools, religious buildings and homes were destroyed in the raids.
“Four people were killed and two others injured,” read the statement.
On December 1, Shan Herald reported that a group of 70 people from Mong Koe had reportedly been arrested by Burmese troops while en route to a wedding.
According to the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services on Sunday, the Burmese army has now retaken control of Mong Koe town from the ethnic rebels.

Since November 23, about 10,000 people have fled their homes to escape the spreading hostilities. Many sought refuge in makeshift shelters in Muse, while others crossed the border into China. Last week, several hundred villagers returned home, though another 700 remain camped inside religious buildings across Muse Township.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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